Killing prions with ozone

February 15, 2012
(L-R) Mohamed Gamal El-Din, Ning Ding, Mike Belosevic and Norman Neumann

When it comes to infectious agents, it doesn’t get much worse than prions. These misfolded proteins are highly resistant to a wide variety of extreme disinfectant procedures. They have been identified as the culprits behind mad cow disease and chronic wasting disease in animals and humans, and are also implicated in Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and other prion-related disorders.

But an interdisciplinary University of Alberta research team has come a step closer to finding a way of inactivating these highly infectious proteins.

The team, lead by environmental health professors Mike Belosevic and Norm Neumann from the School of Public Health and engineering professor Mohamed Gamal El-Din from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, have demonstrated for the first time that prions are highly susceptible to molecular ozone.

The discovery could have implications for decontaminating medical and dental surgical instruments or treating water and wastewater in settings where prions might appear, such as in slaughterhouse waste.

“Although we know that they have a very high-level resistance, it’s possible that we’ve discovered their Achilles’ heel,” said Neumann. “This means there might be simple solutions to dealing with contaminated medical instruments and waste products from slaughterhouses.”

Human transmission of these devastating infectious agents through patient exposure to surgical equipment and blood transfusions has been documented. If these proteins can be neutralized, the result will be improved patient care.

“Because ozone is already commonly used in the hospital environment, the technology for this disinfection process already exists,” says Neumann. “It is possible to take a medical instrument, put it in an ozone bath and very quickly destroy 99.99% of the prions that are there.”

However, there is still much work to do. “The only proof of final inactivation is to actually infect animals, and it may take years for the animal to start demonstrating the behavioural changes associated with these diseases caused by prions,” says Neumann. “We need more research in this area to increase our understanding of the relationship between and all types of prions, including bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE, and that’s what we’re working on now.”

The interdisciplinary nature of the research proved to be crucial to the success. “Nobody has really taken the biological diagnostics and methods and then applied them in the engineering context, and that’s what we did here,” Neumann said.

The importance of the interdisciplinary approach to this research is echoed by Gamal El-Din. “We have the expertise in microbiology and engineering to make a difference. The ultimate goal is to protect the health of people as well as the environment.”

The research was funded in part by the Alberta Research Institute, PrioNet Canada and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and published in the February issue of the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

Explore further: Battling chronic wasting disease in elk and deer

More information: aem.asm.org/content/78/3/613.abstract?sid=f6e5d382-1b83-4472-834e-e557b232ed57

Related Stories

Battling chronic wasting disease in elk and deer

September 27, 2011

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) has been responsible for the severe decline of Saskatchewan’s game farm industry. Millions have been spent on programs to screen herds and compensate farmers.

New research focuses on prion diseases

March 14, 2011

New research by Chongsuk Ryou, researcher at the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging and professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics in the UK College of Medicine, may shed light on possible treatments for prion ...

BSE pathogens can be transmitted by air

January 13, 2011

Airborne prions are also infectious and can induce mad cow disease or Creutzfeldt-Jakob disorder. This is the surprising conclusion of researchers at the University of Zurich, the University Hospital Zurich and the University ...

Prions show their good side

May 7, 2008

Prions, the infamous agents behind mad cow disease and its human variation, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, also have a helpful side. According to new findings from Gerald Zamponi and colleagues, normally functioning prions prevent ...

Recommended for you

Knowledge gap on the origin of sex

May 26, 2017

There are significant gaps in our knowledge on the evolution of sex, according to a research review on sex chromosomes from Lund University in Sweden. Even after more than a century of study, researchers do not know enough ...

The high cost of communication among social bees

May 26, 2017

(Phys.org)—Eusocial insects are predominantly dependent on chemosensory communication to coordinate social organization and define group membership. As the social complexity of a species increases, individual members require ...

Darwin was right: Females prefer sex with good listeners

May 26, 2017

Almost 150 years after Charles Darwin first proposed a little-known prediction from his theory of sexual selection, researchers have found that male moths with larger antennae are better at detecting female signals.

Why communication is vital—even among plants and funghi

May 26, 2017

Plant scientists at the University of Cambridge have found a plant protein indispensable for communication early in the formation of symbiosis - the mutually beneficial relationship between plants and fungi. Symbiosis significantly ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.