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Active vaccine prevents mice from developing prion disease

NEW YORK, May 12 -- NYU School of Medicine scientists have created the first active vaccine that can significantly delay and possibly prevent the onset of a brain disease in mice that is similar to mad cow disease. The new findings, published online this week in the journal Neuroscience, could provide a platform for the development of a vaccine to prevent a group of fatal brain diseases caused by unusual infectious particles called prions.

Although no cure for these diseases -- which include scrapie, mad cow disease, and chronic wasting disease -- is on the horizon, many research groups in both the United States and Europe are working on prion vaccines. But the NYU study is important because it breaks new ground in demonstrating that active immunization can protect a significant percentage of animals from developing symptoms of prion disease, explains Thomas Wisniewski, M.D., Professor of Neurology, Pathology, and Psychiatry, and the lead author of the study.

The vaccines that provide active immunization are made, in part, from proteins found on disease-causing organisms. In response to these proteins, the animal's immune system produces antibodies that will destroy them any time they appear in the body. Most vaccines in use today provide such active immunization.

The prion vaccine developed at NYU would most likely first be used to protect livestock, since most prion infections occur in animals and are thought to be transmitted orally, explains Dr. Wisniewski. The version of prion disease that affects humans usually occurs spontaneously, and only rarely as a result of eating contaminated meat.

"The potential use for a prion vaccine in humans is still theoretical," says Dr. Wisniewski. "But if, for example, there is ever a more significant outbreak of chronic wasting disease and if this disease were found to be transmissible to humans, then we would need a vaccine like this to protect people in hunting areas."
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Contact: pamela mcdonnell
pamela.mcdonnell@nyumc.org
212-404-3555
New York University Medical Center and School of Medicine
12-May-2005


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