06.09.18 10:09

“The Prion Story”: Lecture by Stanley B. Prusiner, Nobel Prize winner and prions discoverer

By: Editorial staff

At the invitation of professors Detlev Riesner and Dieter Willbold, Professor Stanley Prusiner, Nobel Prize winner and professor for neurology and biochemistry at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), gave a lecture on 27 August 2018 in front of a packed audience on the topic of “Prions Causing Neurodegenerative Diseases."

l.t.r: Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Detlev Riesner, Prof. Stanley B. Prusiner, Prof. Dr. Dieter Willbold

Prusiner was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1997 for the discovery of prions, with which he provided an explanation for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), otherwise known as “mad cow disease”. He presented very clearly in his lecture the role played by prions in causing various neurodegenerative diseases: Each of these diseases – ranging from Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia to Parkinson’s disease – is triggered by specific prions.

In discovering prions, Professor Stanley Prusiner found a class of previously unknown pathogens that cannot be categorised as bacteria, viruses or fungi. He called them prions, a term he derived from “protein” and “infection”. Prions are misfolded proteins that are capable of reproducing in this abnormal form. When they accumulate, they cause different types of severe dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases in humans and animals.

Professor Prusiner was guarded when answering the question occupying thousands of researchers worldwide as well as the general public of how these diseases can be cured or at least treated effectively. In his opinion, Alzheimer’s is the disease where a therapy is most urgently required. The annual mortality rate in western countries is ten times higher than for Parkinson’s disease but he said: “It will be a while up, - because antibodies, which are scarcely able to pass the blood-brain-barrier and are often additionally accompanied by severe side effects for the patient. They have for these reasons not proven to be a practicable form of treatment. I would would recommend looking for ways to destroy the prions that trigger the diseases rather than searching for antibodies.”

Stanley B. Prusiner’s contributions to research are highly respected. He is a member of USA’s most prestigious scientific societies as well as a member of the Royal Society in London. Apart from the Nobel Prize, he has received many other important American and international academic awards, e.g. the Wolf Prize in Medicine of the State of Israel (1997) and the National Medal of Science awarded by the President of the United States (2009).

Contact: Press & Communications Unit, Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, Susanne Dopheide, susanne.dopheide@med.uni-duesseldorf.de

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