ARMY POSITION: One of the congressional research programs managed by the US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command Office of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs is the National Prion Research Program (NPRP). Although the Institute of Medicine identified many priorities for prion research in an NPRP-funded report, the NPRP has focused on the priority goal of developing a reliable ante-mortem diagnostic for the detection of prion diseases. The NPRP hosted a forum of all funded investigators on December 8-9, 2005 to present results of Department of Defense (DOD)-funded studies and assess progress toward this priority goal.


  • The meeting was successful in bringing together all funded investigators to share their results and exchange knowledge and ideas that could lead to novel approaches to difficult research problems.
  • Investigators are studying a variety of prion diseases, including variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, scrapie, and chronic wasting disease.
  • Real progress has been made toward the goal of developing an ante-mortem diagnostic. Major impediments to prion detection in peripheral tissue have been overcome. The misfolded prion protein (PrPSc) has exactly the same primary structure as normal prion protein (PrPC), yet represents 0.001 % of prions in an affected host. Investigators reported on the development of antibody detection methods that were both highly sensitive and selective for structural features specific to PrPSc. PrPSc exists in extremely low concentration in peripheral tissue, although investigators reported successful development of methods to concentrate and purify PrPSc from tissues. One NPRP investigator is maintaining a flock of sheep highly susceptible to scrapie that can serve as a uniform resource of infected material, allowing for standardization of detection assays among different laboratories.
  • In vivo, in vitro, and in silico research on this range of related diseases has led to increased understanding of the basic biology, natural history, and transmission of prion diseases.
  • Current state of DOD funding for prion research:
    • Congress has not provided any follow-up appropriations to the NPRP since the initial FY02 appropriation.
    • Other funding of approximately $4 million supports one Institutionally Based Research Project, seven Small Business Innovation Research awards (seven phase I, two phase II), and two Small Business Technology Transfer awards (two phase I, one phase II).