Forum targets proteins in chronic wasting and human disease

photo of members of the Prion Research Center

Members of CSU’s Prion Research Center in front of their newly remodeled lab space in the Pathology Building. From left are Edit Szalai, Mark Zabel, Eric Ross, Ed Hoover, Glenn Telling and Candace Mathiason.

Colorado State University is hosting an international conference — never before held in the United States — focused on prions, the rogue misfolded proteins that cause chronic wasting disease in deer and hold clues to human diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.

Prion 2015 will be on campus May 26-29. It is expected to attract researchers studying major human neuro-degenerative diseases, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, because of increasing awareness of similarities between the brain disorders and prion diseases, like CWD.

photo of deer
Many deer in northern Colorado, and now across the United States, are infected with chronic wasting disease, which has similarities to human brain diseases. (Click to enlarge.)

Pathogens that cause these diseases are unique in their spread: They can make adjacent, normal proteins misfold, too.

“It’s somewhat like a zombie movie, or like a right-handed person transferring that trait to a left-handed person simply by touch,” said University Distinguished Professor Ed Hoover, a veterinarian and infectious-disease authority who co-founded CSU’s Prion Research Center with the center’s director, Glenn Telling.

The conference will attract hundreds of the world’s top prion researchers, including Nobel Laureate Stanley Prusiner, who discovered the self-propagating pathogen and coined the term “prion.” Prusiner now focuses on the prion-like nature of human brain disorders and how to better treat these conditions.

“The fact that we’ve been selected to host it is really significant,” Telling said. “Not just that CSU is hosting it, but that it’s going to be in the U.S. for the first time.”

The conference, set primarily in the Lory Student Center, will feature keynote talks by Prusiner and Reed Wickner, who discovered prion activity outside of mammals, in yeasts.

Former U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, a veterinarian and CSU alumnus who raised funding to help create the Prion Research Center, will be honored at the event. The center is designated as a Colorado State Program of Research and Scholarly Excellence.

“For many people around the world, this will be their first time to visit CSU and Fort Collins,” Hoover said of the conference. “It’s an opportunity to showcase CSU to an international audience.”

The conference, started by the organization NeuroPrion in 2004, is being organized by faculty in CSU’s Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology, with funding from the Alberta Prion Research Institute, CSU Ventures, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease Foundation.

The registration deadline is April 15; learn more at