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Prion Research Procedures

All protocols for working with prions must be approved by the Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) before work is started.

There are no known effective treatments or vaccines for prion (also known as Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies or TSEs). It is necessary to handle prions with extreme caution, both for worker protection and for environmental protection. The highest concentrations of prions in infected animals are in the central nervous system and its coverings. Studies indicate that it is likely that high concentrations of prions may also be found in spleen, thymus, lymph node, and lung tissue.

Scrapie is a prion disease that affects sheep and goats. Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a prion disease that affects deer, moose, and elk.  There has been no documented evidence that either scrapie or CWD can be transmitted to humans. Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) is a prion disease that normally affects cattle.

Cruetzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) is a rare human prion disease. A form of CJD called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) has been diagnosed since 1996 and is thought to be linked to the consumption of meat products derived from BSE-infected cattle.

Exposure Control Methods


Spill Clean-up and Disinfection

Prion disease infectivity is characterized by extreme resistance to conventional inactivation procedures including irradiation, boiling, dry heat, and many chemicals (formalin, betapropiolactone, alcohols). Fixation with alcohol, formalin, or glutaraldehyde actually fixes the infectivity of the infectious agents and makes them more difficult to inactivate.
Note: Be sure to decontaminate all equipment prior to maintenance or service work.

Effective Disinfectants

In addition to the above disinfectants, prions can be inactivated by:

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Spill Clean-up

  • Notify other lab workers that a spill has occurred.
  • It is important to keep contaminated surfaces moist until decontamination is complete as the infectious agents become even more resistant to chemical inactivation when dry.
  • Cover spill with paper towels or other absorbent material.
  • Saturate with Environ LpH or other disinfectant listed above and let sit for at least 30 minutes (60 minutes if using bleach or NaOH). Use sufficient Environ LpH to have a final concentration of 10%. If possible, leave the lab to avoid prolonged breathing of fumes. Direct other workers not to enter the lab.
  • Dispose of absorbent material and any other clean-up material in yellow waste bag.
  • Report all spills to lab supervisor.
Yellow Bag

Decontaminating Non-Disposable Items

Remove gross filth mechanically from the item before treatment begins.

Waste Handling

The following procedures are to be followed for disposing of prion waste. Other methods of waste disposal must first receive IBC approval.

Non-Tissue Low Level Solid Prion Waste (Includes Animal Bedding)

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Liquid Prion Waste

Sharps & Histology Slides

Place sharps in a puncture proof red sharps container. When container is no more than 3/4 full, close and seal tthe container. Place container in a yellow waste bag for incineration.
Note:  Small quantities of sharps may be placed in other small, sealed, puncture-proof containers and put in yellow bag.

Infected Animal Carcasses and Tissue

Dispose of all infected carcasses and tissue in the tissue digester adjacent to Vet Diagnostics on the St. Paul campus. Call 625-0255 to make arrangements. mouse

Accident Response


WHO infection control guidelines for transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. Report of a WHO consultation, Geneva, Switzerland, 23-26 March 1999,

Section VIII-H. Prion Diseases. Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories, 5th Edition.

BL2 TSE Laboratory Standard Operating Procedures, U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), Rocky Mountain Laboratories (RML). Hamilton, Montana

Inactivation of Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (Prion) Agents by Environ LpH, Richard E. Race and Gregory J. Raymond, Journal of Virology, Feb. 2004, p. 2164-2165

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