The Prion Research Center within the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology studies the biochemistry, genetics, and pathogenesis of prions, the causative agent of incurable and often fatal diseases in humans and animals, including:

  • Bovine spongiform encephalopathy
  • Classic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
  • Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
  • Chronic wasting disease
  • Scrapie

With rising outbreaks in mammal species around the world, our researchers seek to prevent, diagnose, treat, and ultimately, cure these diseases. One vital focus of their research are the parameters controlling intra- and inter-species transmission of prion diseases.

Growing evidence also links the prion mechanism to proteins involved in the pathogenesis of other common neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and forms an emerging area of the center’s studies.

Our researchers have diverse expertise in infectious diseases, protein chemistry, immunology, cell and molecular biology, genetics, epidemiology, public, and animal health. The center also trains and mentors numerous visiting scientists, research scientists, postdoctoral fellows, and students.

The Prion Research Center collaborates extensively within the center and university, and a host of scientific partners, shaping multiple investigations of prion research around the world.


Prion research has enjoyed a rich history at Colorado State University. Chronic wasting disease was first identified as a fatal wasting syndrome of mule deer in Fort Collins in the late 1960s, and subsequently as a prion disorder at CSU research facilities by the late Dr. Elizabeth Williams in 1978.

Fort Collins, Colorado, remains at the epicenter of the core endemic region for chronic wasting disease in free-ranging deer, elk, and moose, extending from northeastern Colorado to southeastern Wyoming and Nebraska. Since 2002, chronic wasting disease has also emerged beyond this endemic region to wild and/or farm-raised cervids (deer, elk, moose) from 26 U.S. states, Canada, Norway, and South Korea.

In the early 2000s, researchers at CSU built on established veterinary pathology expertise of prions to further investigate chronic wasting disease and emerging prion diseases. The Prion Research Center was formally established in 2011 at Colorado State University, first as a Program of Research and Scholarly Excellence, and continues as a renowned center today.