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Contact: Susan Joslin, (508) 289-7281; sjoslin@mbl.edu

Discoverer of infectious proteins that cause neurodegenerative diseases to discuss latest research developments

Stanley Prusiner

WOODS HOLE, MA—Nobel laureate Stanley Prusiner, M.D., who discovered the infectious proteins that cause "mad cow disease" in cattle, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans, and other neurodegenerative diseases, will discuss the latest developments in this field at the August 5 MBL (Marine Biological Laboratory) Friday Evening Lecture at 8:00 PM in the MBL's Lillie Auditorium, 7 MBL Street, Woods Hole. The lecture, titled "The Broad Spectrum of Prion-Like Diseases and the Quest for Therapeutics," is free and open to the public.

In 1982, Dr. Stanley Prusiner discovered an unprecedented class of pathogens he named prions. These small infectious proteins are capable of causing fatal dementia-like diseases in humans and animals. With this discovery, which earned him the 1997 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, Dr. Prusiner added prions to the list of well-known infectious agents including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites.

Prion diseases are rare disorders that affect the nervous system and, in humans, impair brain function, causing memory changes, personality changes, dementia, and problems with movement that worsen over time. Dr. Prusiner demonstrated that prions are formed when a normal, benign cellular protein acquires an altered shape that results in pathological changes in the brain. He also described a novel disease paradigm, showing that prions cause disorders in humans that manifest variously as sporadic, inherited, or infectious illnesses. His discoveries spurred vehement debate among scientists for many years.

The most common prion disease in humans is Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). Other, more common neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and frontotemporal dementia have also been found to involve abnormal protein conformations. Dr. Prusiner's current research includes efforts to find drug therapies that retard neurodegeneration in Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and prion diseases.

Stanley Prusiner, M.D., is director of the Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases and professor of Neurology at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) where he has worked since 1972. He received his undergraduate and medical training at the University of Pennsylvania and his postgraduate clinical training at UCSF. From 1969 to 1972, he served in the U.S. Public Health Service at the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Prusiner’s contributions to scientific research have been internationally recognized. He is the editor of 12 books and author of more than 450 research articles.

Dr. Prusiner is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society, and a foreign member of the Royal Society, London. He is the recipient of numerous prizes, including the Potamkin Prize for Alzheimer’s Disease Research; the Richard Lounsbery Award for Extraordinary Scientific Research in Biology and Medicine from the National Academy of Sciences; the Gairdner Foundation International Award; the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research; and the National Medal of Science. Dr. Prusiner holds 50 issued or allowed United States patents, all of which are assigned to the University of California.

The Friday Evening Lecture Series will continue throughout the summer at the MBL. The remaining lectures in the series are below. For more information, visit www.mbl.edu/FEL

August 11, 2011
Lederberg Lecture
"The Biochemistry of Inflammation: from Microciona to the Microbiome"
Gerald Weissmann, New York University School of Medicine

August 12, 2011
"Genetic Insight Into Candida Infection Biology"
Aaron P. Mitchell, Carnegie Mellon University

August 19, 2011
Sager Lecture
"Revisiting the Heuser and Reese Synapse in the 21st Century: Do Nerve Cells Kiss?" - Erik M. Jorgensen, University of Utah, Howard Hughes Medical Institute


The Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) is dedicated to scientific discovery and improving the human condition through research and education in biology, biomedicine, and environmental science. Founded in 1888 in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, the MBL is an independent, nonprofit corporation.