Ozone vs Prions
Ozone-treated water can eradicate
prions in the brain of infected animals
March 3, 2012
A University of Alberta research team has discovered that
technology commonly used to decontaminate food industry equipment
can also rid meat processing plants of lethal microbial material
responsible for the human version of the ailment Mad Cow disease.
U of A microbiology professors Mike Belosevic and Norm Neumann and
engineering professor Mohamed Gamal El-Din demonstrated that
infectious proteins found in the brain matter of cattle can be
eradicated from water treated with ozone.
The discovery could have applications in decontaminating
wastewater in settings such as slaughterhouse effluents where
infected neural material known as prions may be present.
Cases of human transmission of infectious prions through surgical
equipment have also been documented. The ozone decontamination
procedure can potentially be used to sterilize instruments used
for neurosurgery, and prevent the transfer of infectious prions
during surgical procedures.
Prions have been identified as source of Mad Cow and Chronic
Wasting disease in animals. The human variants or these conditions
are Creutzfeld-Jakob disease and Alzheimer's disease. Prions are
found in the brain and spinal cord tissue of infected animals and
are a grave health risk in human and animal settings.
Prions are able to destroy and can still be infectious after being
incinerated at heats of 850°C. In the wild, soil contaminated by a
carcass of a deer that died of Chronic Wasting Disease can remain
a source of infection for many years.
The U of A research team's technique of using water treated with
ozone to destroy prions is an improvement on current prion
University of Alberta
Killing prions with ozone
Richard Cairney and Kate Toogood
February 14, 2012
(L-R) Mohamed Gamal El-Din, Ning
Ding, Mike Belosevic and Norman Neumann
(Edmonton) When it comes to infectious agents, it doesn’t get much
worse than prions. These misfolded proteins are highly resistant
to a wide variety of extreme disinfectant procedures. They have
been identified as the culprits behind mad cow disease and chronic
wasting disease in animals and humans, and are also implicated in
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and other prion-related disorders.
But an interdisciplinary University of Alberta research team has
come a step closer to finding a way of inactivating these highly
The team, lead by environmental health professors Mike Belosevic
and Norm Neumann from the School of Public Health and engineering
professor Mohamed Gamal El-Din from the Department of Civil and
Environmental Engineering, have demonstrated for the first time
that prions are highly susceptible to molecular ozone.
The discovery could have implications for decontaminating medical
and dental surgical instruments or treating water and wastewater
in settings where prions might appear, such as in slaughterhouse
“Although we know that they have a very high-level resistance,
it’s possible that we’ve discovered their Achilles’ heel,” said
Neumann. “This means there might be simple solutions to dealing
with contaminated medical instruments and waste products from
Human transmission of these devastating infectious agents through
patient exposure to surgical equipment and blood transfusions has
been documented. If these proteins can be neutralized, the result
will be improved patient care.
“Because ozone is already commonly used in the hospital
environment, the technology for this disinfection process already
exists,” says Neumann. “It is possible to take a medical
instrument, put it in an ozone bath and very quickly destroy
99.99% of the prions that are there.”
However, there is still much work to do. “The only proof of final
inactivation is to actually infect animals, and it may take years
for the animal to start demonstrating the behavioural changes
associated with these diseases caused by prions,” says Neumann.
“We need more research in this area to increase our understanding
of the relationship between ozone and all types of prions,
including bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE, and that’s what
we’re working on now.”
The interdisciplinary nature of the research proved to be crucial
to the success. “Nobody has really taken the biological
diagnostics and methods and then applied them in the engineering
context, and that’s what we did here,” Neumann said.
The importance of the interdisciplinary approach to this research
is echoed by Gamal El-Din. “We have the expertise in microbiology
and engineering to make a difference. The ultimate goal is to
protect the health of people as well as the environment.”
The research was funded in part by the Alberta Prion Research
Institute, PrioNet Canada and the Natural Sciences and Engineering
Research Council of Canada and published in the February issue of
the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.
Gamal El-Din’s page: