New Study Shows Some Deer Less Susceptible to CWD

DE PERE, Wis (WBAY) A St. Norbert College professor is hoping his research can aid wildlife experts in managing Chronic Wasting Disease in deer.

Deer and fawn
A deer cares for its fawn born May 22 at Heckrodt Wetland Reserve in Menasha (Photo: Tim Sweet)

The study shows some deer are more susceptible to the disease than others.

An undergrad at the University of Illinois when CWD was first detected in the early 2000's, Adam Brandt began studying the disease while earning his PhD.

"It's a really unique system in that it's a prion disease that's in a wild population, everything else is in domestic animals, so there wasn't a whole lot we know about it, it's got this really important aspect to it being people are hunting, people are consuming it, we don't know a lot about it and it has a huge impact," says Brandt, an assistant professor of biology at St. Norbert Colllege in De Pere.

Using genetic samples from more than 2,400 deer, Brandt studied the prion protein gene and it's correlation to CWD, which he published in 2015.

Since then, he's discovered patterns in how the disease spreads, creating differing degrees of herd immunity.

"This prion protein gene has a few mutations, it doesn't make them completely resistant, but in whitetail deer it reduces susceptibility, so there's a slowed disease progression, if it's a high enough infectiousness they'll still succumb to it, but it seems to be if these mutations are present in populations at a high enough rate, it at least slows the way the disease spreads, kind of contains it to an area," says Brandt.

Brandt says with conservation resources and funding dwindling, he's hoping his latest research, which is set to be published in the journal Prion, can help states like Wisconsin more effectively manage CWD.

"Rather than just taking a blanket approach to the whole state, the whole region, the whole area, being able to a least have some reasoning, some justification for targeting certain counties, certain areas or townships with more effort because they'd be more susceptible and more likely to have the disease spread and maybe less on areas that aren't that much of a concern. This is one of many tools, one of many pieces of information needed to really manage the disease," says Brandt.