Bastian at work.jpg

LSU AgCenter neuropathologist Frank Bastian prepares to grow bacteria in his lab. His work is helping to develop a test and vaccine for diseases such as chronic wasting disease, mad cow disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

The LSU AgCenter announced Monday what Frank Bastian believes is a major breakthrough in the ongoing battle with chronic wasting disease, mad cow disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Bastian, a career AgCenter animal scientist specializing in neuropathology, said years of work in the lab has paid off with a way to grow the bacteria that causes these always fatal diseases.

Chronic wasting disease infects animals in the cervid family, notably whitetail deer, elk, mule deer and moose along with red deer. The same disease, commonly identified as mad cow disease, affects cattle.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob affects humans and is the same disease. Often undiagnosed in its early stages and identified in about 15 percent of Alzheimer’s patients, a final diagnosis of Creutzfeldt-Jakob means, for 90 percent of its victims, death within one year, according to Center for Disease Control statistics.

Through the AgCenter announcement, Bastian said the method to grow this bacteria will make it possible to “develop tests and vaccines for (the diseases).”

The remainder of the release read:

“For years, Bastian had been unsuccessful in growing the bacteria in the lab, but his recent breakthrough has microbiologists from the University of Alabama at Birmingham interested in joining in the research.”

“This is really exciting news because this allows me to work on the bacteria, while other laboratories with access to chronic wasting disease-affected deer tissues can conduct research also,” Bastian said. “We need more laboratories involved with this approach.”

For hunters

Chronic wasting disease was discovered in the late-1980s in Colorado and has spread to 20 other states, including deer in Texas and Arkansas, and is found in two Canadian provinces.

In 2016, the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries presented a plan to prevent hunters from transporting deer and certain parts of deer into Louisiana. The Wildlife and Fisheries Commission approved the plan and it went into effect in March. It was designed to leave the brain, organs and bones of a deer in the state where it was taken. The 2017-2018 Louisiana Hunting Pamphlet has a page dedicated to explaining the ban on importing cervid parts into the state, and how you are able to bring certain parts of your trophy into the state for taxidermy work.

What’s important here is that infected animals don’t always show signs of CWD because the incubation period can be as long as 10 months before the animal begins wasting away and dies.

Bastian explained his long-term research eventually could help hunters. Right now, hunters have no method of testing their kills for CWD.

“I would like to give hunters a test kit that they can carry in the woods so they can test their kill for presence of the bacteria while they are in the field,” Bastian told the AgCenter reporters. “Hunters need to know whether their kill is infected before they consume the meat.”

Bastian said he believes he is now within a year or two of being able to produce a test hunters can use to determine if their animal is carrying CWD.

“We should be worried about these diseases because there is a potential infection reservoir in chronic wasting disease-infected deer populations,” he said. “The problem that hunters face in eating potentially infected meat is that heat does not kill this bacteria. Eighty-five degrees centigrade does not affect it, and the bacteria survive up to boiling (100 degrees centigrade).

“This is significant because E. coli is dead at 80 (degrees C),” he said.

A cure?

Bastian said the new method to grow the bacteria likely will lead to further breakthroughs to explain the questions scientists across the country have had about CWD and their related diseases.

The AgCenter’s announcement indicated there is no treatment for, and certainly no cure for the three diseases, and that Bastian believes being able to grow the bacteria opens the door for further development of treatments and cures.

Bastian said the drug Tetracycline has been, and is, used to treat the infection, but the drug has only slowed “the activity of the bacteria.” He also said most humans who develop Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease are between ages 40-80, and that 90 percent of them die within a year, and a large percentage are dead in a matter of weeks.

The AgCenter release read Bastian’s work produced “bacteria in the laboratory would only grow for about 10 hours, then die,” and Bastian changed the growing medium, a change that gave him the ability “to grow 100 percent of the specimens.”