Dr Matt Lobley, Assistant Director of Centre for Rural Policy Research, University of Exeter.

Rural scholar receives Canadian appointment

An Exeter social scientist has been appointed by a leading advisory board to support their work in overcoming the impacts caused by prion disease in Canada.

An infectious and fatal disease, associated with a sponge like degeneration of brain tissue in humans and animals; its most well known form is bovine spongiform encephalopathy, BSE, in cattle or mad cow disease.

Canada’s cattle industry reeled from the economic loss of an estimated $6 billion stemming from the first case of BSE in 2003 when the world’s borders closed to Canadian cattle. The crisis left a heightened awareness about food safety, surveillance measures, and health issues leading to the federal government creating a research organisation to address the issues surrounding prion diseases.

Dr Matt Lobley, from the University of Exeter’s Centre for Rural Policy Research was recruited to the Scientific Advisory Committee of PrioNet Canada, to assist on advising on the sociological and economic impacts on farming families and communities.  His expertise stems from work with rural families in the South West who suffered greatly during the foot and mouth crisis. The psychological impact on farm households when their livelihoods were substantially reduced formed the basis for research has resonance with communities in Canada. Dr Lobley explained, ‘Coping with stress especially where work colleagues are family members, as is often the case in farming has added pressure. If the business of making the farm profitable is failing the farmer may have increased anxiety and a strong feeling that they are failing their parents and grandparents who worked the farm and the prospects for future generations in the family.’

He added, ‘Farming families are facing the same sort of the issues whether in the UK or Canada.’

PrioNet’s pan-Canadian network of research includes 78 diverse scientific members and nine international collaborators that enable multidisciplinary research to be able to respond and provide integrated risk management strategies surrounding prion diseases. Scientific Director of PrioNet Canada, Dr. Neil Cashman remarked, ‘PrioNet Canada is very pleased to welcome Dr. Matt Lobley to our international Scientific Advisory Committee. His well-rounded expertise and socioeconomic perspective fulfils a critical role on this important committee.”

There are huge implications for Canada with its vast rural wilderness and extensive farming communities as other prion diseases, such as chronic wasting disease (CWD), also effects wildlife of deer and elk. If populations of wildlife are increasingly infected, this puts First Nation peoples (the aboriginal community) at risk who hunt and eat wild meat. Some examples of prion diseases in humans include Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) and investigations continue into the potential link of prion diseases to other neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Date: 20 April 2009

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