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U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command &
Fort Detrick Public Affairs/Marketing Office, Fort Detrick, Maryland


January 09, 2004

For Immediate Release:

Department of Defense National Prion Research Program (NPRP) Awards Summary for Fiscal Year 2002.

The Department of Defense National Prion Research Program (NPRP) was established by Congress in fiscal year 2002 with an appropriation of $42.5 million. The NPRP is administered by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (USAMRMC) through the Office of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP).

The priority goal of the NPRP is the rapid development of an ante-mortem diagnostic test for the detection of prions. An additional emphasis of the program is the expansion of the number of researchers in the prion field to bring to bear additional resources and expertise on the problem. The investment strategy for the NPRP was developed by an expert Integration Panel that included representatives from academia, government agencies, biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, and international organizations. Funding recommendations were also supported by an interim National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine (IOM) report titled "Advancing Prion Science: Guidance for the National Prion Research Program." The USAMRMC requested the IOM assess the field of Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies, focusing on prion detection and disease diagnosis. The IOM interim report provided four general recommendations: improving diagnostics; funding basic research; supporting prion research infrastructure; and assessing risks to the military. The NPRP funded 38 out of the 136 submissions received. Awards were made through two different training award mechanisms (5 awards) and two different research award mechanisms (33 awards). The period of performance ranges from 3 to 5 years. Award recipients began research in 2003.

Seventeen NPRP awards have as their primary focus direct development of sensitive and reproducible ante-mortem diagnostics, and/or the discovery and development of new disease markers. These proposals utilize a wide range of detection platforms and methodologies including development of new immunological, physical, and chemical detection methods, as well as optimization and standardization of existing methods. Ten of the awards are focused on more basic research questions such as the biology and etiology of prion diseases. Answers to these questions are expected provide important insight into the detection, treatment, and prevention of prion diseases. The objective of four of the funded projects is the development of experimental models to facilitate more sensitive and rapid detection of the disease agent in living systems. An additional five projects are designed to develop potential methods to prevent infection or progression of prion diseases. These studies include the development of prion-resistant instruments, vaccines, inhibitory RNA molecules, monoclonal antibodies, and traditional drug screens. Finally, two proposals address environmental contamination and persistence of prions.

Together, the grants in the NPRP portfolio represent an exceptionally broad range of projects that bring new methodologies and additional expertise to the detection, prevention, and treatment of prion diseases. The NPRP was also able to fund 15 new investigators and 40 pre- and post-doctoral trainees, expanding the intellectual foundation of the field of prion research. A final IOM report will be available in January 2004 to support the prion research field. Recommendations include expanding U.S. prion surveillance, testing blood for prions, strategies for prevention and therapy, and support for further research funding.

Points of Contact:
Gail Whitehead, Public Affairs Coordinator, 301-619-7783, gail.whitehead@amedd.army.mil