PULLMAN, Wash. — The Pullman-based team of USDA scientists and Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine researchers who discovered a breakthrough test for a mad cow-like disease in sheep has been awarded the USDA’s Honor Award for personal and professional excellence.
Agricultural Research Service microbiologist Katherine O’Rourke leads the team. ARS veterinary medical officer Don Knowles and WSU faculty members Tim Baszler and Steven Parish round out the group that announced in April the first pre-clinical test for scrapie. Scrapie is a fatal spongiform-type brain disease that occurs in sheep and is similar to so-called mad cow disease.
The team determined the inner eyelids of sheep hold the key to an easy, inexpensive test for diagnosing scrapie before signs of the disease appear in the animal. The nicitating membrane in sheep, otherwise known as the third eyelid, contains tissue that collects the abnormal prion proteins thought to cause scrapie.
“This is a remarkable scientific achievement by a dedicated core of scientists working together,” said Terry McElwain, interim dean of the WSU veterinary college. “Our hope now is to perform the necessary scientific validations and be able to use technology transfer to the private sector for distribution of an effective, inexpensive scrapie test to the sheep producers of the world.”
Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman presented plaques to the scrapie group and 10 other teams and individuals at the 52nd annual Honor Awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.
“This is the first practical test that identifies scrapie in live sheep before the animals show signs,” said ARS Administrator Floyd Horn. “The test could eventually help eradicate scrapie in the United States.”


NOTE TO EDITORS: For details, contact Katherine O’Rourke, Animal Disease Research Unit, Agricultural Research Service, USDA, 337 Bustad Hall, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164; phone 509/559-6020, fax 509/335-8328; e-mail korourke@vetmed.wsu.edu.