Mailed 9/10/96


Infectious proteins may cause mad cow disease

Upton, NY - Stanley Prusiner, professor of biochemistry at the University of California, San Francisco, will give a talk on "Prion Biology and Diseases" at Brookhaven National Laboratory's Berkner Hall on Tuesday, October 1, at 4 p.m. A prion is an unusual infectious protein that may cause mad cow disease. The lecture is free and open to the public.

Recently, a large number of cattle were destroyed in England because of an outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease. Several human cases of the fatal disease, thought to be contracted by eating BSE-infected beef, had been reported.

For several decades, scientists believed that central nervous system diseases, like mad cow disease and a similar disease in sheep called scrapie, were caused by a slow-acting virus. More than 20 years ago, Dr. Prusiner began to compile evidence that these diseases are caused by prions, a unique biological agent that is made of only a protein, with no nucleic acid. Although this was considered a heretical idea, his experiments have shown that an infectious pathogen lacking nucleic acid can multiply and cause central nervous system degeneration.

While evidence for the prion hypothesis is substantial, much is left to be understood. In his talk, Dr. Prusiner will discuss both his previous investigations and plans for future experiments.

Stanley Prusiner received an M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1968, and, after completing his residency and internship at the medical center at the University of California, San Francisco, joined the faculty in 1974 as an assistant professor of neurology. He has spent his entire professional career there, assuming his present position in 1988.

Dr. Prusiner has received numerous awards and honors, including the 1993 Gairdner Foundation International Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Medical Science, the 1994 Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research, and the 1996 Wolf Prize in Medicine. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

For more information about the lecture, contact Brookhaven's Public Affairs Office at 344-2345. The Laboratory is located on William Floyd Parkway (County Road 46), one-and-a-half miles north of Exit 68 of the Long Island Expressway.

Brookhaven National Laboratory carries out basic and applied research in the physical, biomedical and environmental sciences and in selected energy technologies. Brookhaven is operated by Associated Universities, Inc., a nonprofit research management organization, under contract with the U.S. Department of Energy.