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Food Quality and Safety in Europe



ImmunoPrion is a project at the cutting edge of current scientific knowledge on Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE). The project is built around three key issues: the strain diversity of TSE agents, the crossing of the species barrier and the evaluation of the host innate and acquired immune responses. TSEs are conditions that affect the brain and the nervous system of humans and animals, among which we find the commonly called mad cow disease and its human equivalent, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. TSEs are propagated by prions (a type of infectious agent made only of protein). ImmunoPrion is therefore investigating the fundamental features of TSEs to enable the development of detection and control strategies for prion strains.


The project's first goal is to provide a better definition of prion strains based on the structural properties of scrapie, a prion disease occurring in sheep. The teams have begun by producing in vitro synthetic variants of prions, because they constitute a reliable and homogenous source, mimicking natural strain diversity, which is important for characterising naturally infectious strains. They will then switch to naturally infectious strains from mice, hamsters and sheep. The members are also developing a new imaging technique in order to achieve high-resolution 3-D characterisation of prion strains. The ultimate objective in using this highly innovative approach is to achieve a well-standardised map of prion diversity and to relate the morphological specificities to pathogenic profile.


The existence of a species barrier of variable efficacy has been recognised since the mid-seventies and is a key parameter in food safety. However, the mechanisms involved in this phenomenon are still not fully understood and science is still unable to predict whether a prion strain will pass into another species - for example, if BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) will go on to infect sheep or humans - and what the biological mechanisms influencing prion passage to the host are. The ImmunoPrion project is attempting to acquire a better understanding of the species barrier by carrying out research using rodents to probe the transmission of TSE agents of animal origin to humans. This model will allow direct testing on prions of potential concern, including BSE, CWD (Chronic Wasting Disease, in deer) and other emerging scrapie strains.

The SME involved in ImmunoPrion is responsible for liaising with the project participants and the political, industrial and academic world in order to promote the project's goals and participate in the establishment of markers and methods for the detection of prion strains. All European countries aim at the highest possible standards of consumer protection, which include the safety of food products. To this end, the project's objectives are organised around the idea that a rational food safety strategy must prevent, predict and protect. Therefore, the results of this research will have a major impact on the development of improved food safety measures.

List of Partners

  • Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (France)
  • The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Oxford (UK)
  • University of Zurich (Switzerland)
  • Het Nederlands Kanker Institut (The Netherlands)
  • TecKnowMetrix (France)
  • Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (France)
  • Université de Liège (Belgium)
Full title:
Immunological and structural studies of prion diversity
Contract n°:
Project co-ordinator:
Patrice Marche, Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale,
EC Scientific Officer:
Laurence Moreau,
EU contribution:
€ 2M
Specific Targeted Research Project

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Last update: 06 December 2007 | Top