EDMONTON – University of Alberta scientists will use new funding to find out how much testing needs to be done before consumers are confident the beef they’re eating is BSE-free.

The study is one of four projects to share in $1.9 million awarded to U of A researchers by PrioNet. The network pulls together scientists from across the country, as well as members of government, non-government organizations and industry, to work on the ultimate goal of eradicating the impact of prion disease.

Prion diseases include bovine spongiform encephalopathy (commonly known as mad cow disease), Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) in humans, a variant human form of CJD acquired from the consumption of BSE-contaminated cattle products (vCJD), and chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer and elk.

Prion diseases are untreatable, infectious, and fatal neurodegenerative diseases.

Normal prion proteins are found on the surface of human and animal cells.

Prion diseases occur when the normal prion protein is misshapen into the infectious disease-causing form, called prions. Scientists are still trying to figure out how the misshaping occurs.

Another one of the projects to get new funding will use X-ray crystallography to determine the 3-D make-up of a molecule. This will provide important molecular information about blocking the misshaping of a prion protein into the disease-causing, infectious prion.