Commission creates the world's leading research network for prion diseases
A Network of Excellence that brings together 90 per cent of Europe's leading research teams working on prion diseases such as BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) was launched in Paris on 28 May.
The NeuroPrion network has been established with 14.4 million euro of EU funding. The money will be used to build a new prion research facility in France, as well as for supporting research projects seeking to improve the detection and surveillance of prion diseases.
Launching the new network, European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin said that the Commission had expended great efforts in tackling the BSE crisis, including the creation of a special action plan for research in 1996. 'As part of the European Research Area, the NeuroPrion Network of Excellence is the next logical step. The network will bring together Europe's top experts to tackle prion diseases in terms of prevention, control, treatment and risk analysis.'
Collectively, diseases that are caused by the abnormal folding of the prion protein are known as Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs). As well as BSE, other TSEs include vCJD (variant Creutzfeldt Jakob disease, the human form of BSE), scrapie in sheep, and chronic wasting disorder in deer and elk.
The exact function of normal prion protein is not known, but it appears that in the case of prion diseases, malformed protein accumulates in the brain and causes dementia. However, there is no doubting the serious impact that TSEs have had in Europe. Since BSE was first discovered in 1986, all but four of the EU's 25 Member States have declared outbreaks, and there were 180,000 cases in the UK alone.
As a result of BSE-infected cattle entering the human food chain, 146 cases of probable and confirmed vCJD have so far been reported. The European Association of Animal Production estimates that the financial cost of BSE to the countries of the 15 members of EU was more than 90 billion euro.
The first task for the partners of the NeuroPrion network will be to improve their understanding of what causes prion protein modifications to occur, how they develop in animals, and how they are transferred to humans to affect the brain and nerve cells. The construction of the new prion research facility at the Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique in France, which also coordinates the network, will contribute to these goals, as will identifying key areas where applied research and greater coordination of existing programmes are needed.
Other urgent goals for the researchers include improved testing, diagnosis and surveillance of TSEs. Early detection methods for both animals and humans will be developed within the network, based on the analysis of easily accessible body fluids. The faster diagnoses offered by such tests will improve the likelihood of success for therapeutic interventions.
Furthermore, the NeuroPrion network encompasses all national surveillance centres for vCJD in the EU, and will also create strong links between many animal surveillance centres. Partners will carry out joint training programmes, exchange staff, and enjoy access to a specially developed website. Shared tissue and fluid banks will also be created, and standard methodologies agreed.
Finally, in recognition of the damage that the BSE crisis did to public trust in government and governmental scientific advice, the network will also interface with the wider research community and the public at large through an annual world prion congress, the first of which took place in Paris from 24 to 27 May to coincide with the launch of the NeuroPrion network.
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Data Source Provider: European Commission
Document Reference: Based on IP/04/690
Subject Index: Coordination, Cooperation; Food; Medicine, Health; Scientific Research