Lab Canada

New excellence network to study prion diseases

Vancouver, BC – A new network of centres of excellence, called PrioNet Canada, has been established with $35 million funding over the next seven years by the federal government.

The centre will pool the collective expertise of Canadian prion researchers to strengthen the diagnosis, treatment, and ultimate prevention of such diseases as BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy or mad cow disease) and TSEs (Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies), such as vCJD (variant Creutzfeldt Jakob disease, the human form of BSE) and scrapie in sheep and other forms.

Twenty-seven of the world’s leading experts in prion research have come together to form the network, under the scientific guidance of prion researcher Dr Neil Cashman. Together, they will establish a laboratory infrastructure that includes biocontaminant laboratories equipped for specialized prion research and a team of highly qualified research personnel.

The University of British Columbia and Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute will serve as the host institutions for PrioNet Canada, providing administrative offices and support, as well as a cash contribution of nearly $1.6 million over the first seven years of the network’s operation. Additional partners include the Alberta Prion Research Institute (funded by the Alberta Ingenuity Fund in Edmonton), along with representatives from Canadian universities, government agencies, and both Canadian and US-based corporations.

According to Dr Cashman, the centre will kick-start the largest joint initiative in prion research in this country, with an unprecedented number of prion experts involved, and a goal of tripling the number of trained researchers in Canada within four years. “We are very pleased to meet the many challenges posed by prion disease in Canada through the basic and applied scientific research program of PrioNet,” he says.