Heather Greenlee, an associate professor of biomedical sciences in Iowa State's College of Veterinary Medicine, is able to detect bovine spongiform encepthalopathy (BSE or mad cow’s disease) in the eyes of infected cattle up to 11 months before they show symptoms of disease.
Until now, the only sure way to detect the disease is to examine the brains of cattle that have died.
"The retina is part of the central nervous system," Greenlee said. "Essentially, it's the part of the brain closest to the outside world, and we know the retina is changed in animals that have prion diseases."
In collaboration with Justin Greenlee's group at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Animal Disease Center, she recently published findings in the peer-reviewed academic journal PLOS ONE. She has been researching retina detection of prion diseases for nine years.