Infectious prions, the lethal microbes that cause Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) in animals, can be eradicated with a technique that has long been used to inactivate pathogens in drinking water.
A research team from the University of Alberta in Canada exposed infected hamster brain tissue in vitro to molecular ozone, which destroyed the templating properties of misfolded proteins, eliminating more than 99%. The technique could be quickly employed to treat water and wastewater in settings where there is a risk of prions appearing, such as in slaughterhouse waste.
Infectious prions, while relatively uncommon, are highly resistant to common decontamination procedures such as radiation and chlorination. In fact, they have remained infectious after being incinerated at more than 800 degrees Celsius. But ozonation appears to be far more effective, said Miodrag (Mike) Belosevic, PhD, a distinguished professor in the department of public health sciences at the University of Alberta and one of the lead authors of the study, which appeared in the journal Applied Environmental Microbiology (2012;78(3):613-620). “Ozonation inactivates prions equally well than, or even better than, inactivating some of the hardier pathogens that occur in water.”
“For years it’s been thought that prions are incredibly difficult to inactivate,” said Dr. Belosevic. “But they are actually highly susceptible to degradation by ozone. Currently, the majority, if not all, [of] wastewater treatments don’t use ozone, but applying ozonation would be a relatively easy thing to do and reasonably cost-effective,” Dr. Belosevic said. “The technology is available right now.”