Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a naturally occurring transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) affecting members of the cervid species, including white-tailed and mule deer, wapiti, and moose. As with other TSEs, including scrapie of sheep, transmissible mink encephalopathy, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or mad cow disease), and variant/sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) in humans. CWD is characterized by identifying an abnormally folded protein. The cellular prion protein that is responsible for causing the disease, is identified by many labor intensive steps to detect the misfolded protein in the animal. This structural change renders it resistant to degradation that has led to the epidemic of the disease spreading through waterways, feeding pastures, and laterally to other cervid animals in the area.
Currently, the only recognized method by the USDA-APHIS is a technique that requires a brain biopsy (Immunohistochemistry or IHC), thus each animal tested is no longer living.
NAGC is optimizing two methods to detect CWD which will be able to survey living animals in addition to non-living animals in an effort to get ahead of the disease. By testing asymptomatic animals and using preventative measures, the identification of the disease can be established before the possible transmission to other animals and animal resources (food and water).