Although a human version of the vaccine may be some time away, animal versions might help to prevent animal-to-human transmission of prion diseases such as chronic wasting disease in deer and elk, or, presumably, bovine spongiform encephalopathy also known as mad cow disease, Dr. Wisniewski said.
"In some western states, in captive deer and elk populations, the prevalence of chronic wasting disease can be as high as 80%," he said. "It is not known whether chronic wasting disease is transmissible to humans, but there is a lot of evidence to suggest that it would be."
Prion diseases in humans can be inherited-as in the case of Creutzfeld-Jakob disease-or infectious, as in the case of variant CJD (caused by eating meat from cattle infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
Prion-associated diseases are marked by a pathogenic alteration of the PrPc protein, a normal cellular protein expressed at high levels in neurons, with important synaptic maintenance functions.