Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) created a global European crisis in the 1980s and 90s, with very serious health and economic implications. Classical BSE now appears to be under control, to a great extent as a result of a global research effort that identified the sources of prions in meat and bone meal (MBM) and developed new animal-testing tools that guided policy. Priority ( www.prionpriority.eu ) was a European Union (EU) Framework Program 7 (FP7)-funded project through which 21 European research institutions and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) joined efforts between 2009 and 2014, to conduct coordinated basic and applied research on prions and prion diseases. At the end of the project, the Priority consortium drafted a position paper ( www.prionpriority.eu/Priority position paper) with its main conclusions. In the present opinion paper, we summarize these conclusions. With respect to the issue of re-introducing ruminant protein into the feed-chain, our opinion is that sustaining an absolute ban on feeding ruminant protein to ruminants is essential. In particular, the spread and impact of non-classical forms of scrapie and BSE in ruminants is not fully understood and the risks cannot be estimated. Atypical prion agents will probably continue to represent the dominant form of prion diseases in the near future in Europe. Atypical L-type BSE has clear zoonotic potential, as demonstrated in experimental models. Similarly, there are now data indicating that the atypical scrapie agent can cross various species barriers. More epidemiological data from large cohorts are necessary to reach any conclusion on the impact of its transmissibility on public health. Re-evaluations of safety precautions may become necessary depending on the outcome of these studies. Intensified searching for molecular determinants of the species barrier is recommended, since this barrier is key for important policy areas and risk assessment. Understanding the structural basis for strains and the basis for adaptation of a strain to a new host will require continued fundamental research, also needed to understand mechanisms of prion transmission, replication and how they cause nervous system dysfunction and death. Early detection of prion infection, ideally at a preclinical stage, also remains crucial for development of effective treatment strategies.
Keywords: BSE; CJD; atypical BSE; atypical scrapie; prion; scrapie.