In 1998, scientists at USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, working in collaboration with researchers at the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, the American sheep industry, and a private company, Veterinary Medical Research and Development, Inc., developed a preclinical, noninvasive test for scrapie. Scrapie is a degenerative and eventually fatal disease that targets the central nervous systems of sheep and goats. These researchers found that lymphoid tissue in the third eyelid of sheep collects prions, the unique protein that causes scrapie, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, chronic wasting disease, and other related diseases. They also designed a new antibody to identify prions in a sample of eyelid tissue (O’Rourke et al., 1998, 2000).
There is no cure or treatment for scrapie and scientists do not fully understand how it is transmitted. Sheep can harbor the disease for up to 5 years before they show signs such as trembling, incoordination, or scraping against objects. Prior to development of the eyelid test, diagnosis required recognition of clinical signs and testing of a sample of brain tissue collected from a euthanized animal. Producers with confirmed cases of scrapie in their flock had to destroy clinically normal animals to obtain the appropriate sample for a diagnosis in an effort to eliminate the disease. The ability to diagnose the disease at a much earlier stage has greatly facilitated attempts to eradicate it.
This partnership of government scientists, academia, a producer group, and private industry resulted in the first, and to date, the only validated preclinical test for a prion-induced disease. The test is approved by USDA APHIS and is being used in formal eradication programs in North America.
tion, detection, and diagnosis methods closer to the point of infection, and approaches that invite collaboration with other countries and related organizations.
One example of an effective research partnership between government, academia, and industry is described in Box 5-2.
The committee considered two possible mechanisms or strategies for implementing this recommendation: the establishment of an independent advisory group and/or an incentive program. The advantages and disadvantages of these alternatives are discussed below.
An independent scientific advisory group to the USDA (including ARS) with members from academia, industry, and state, federal, and in-