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Nobel laureate to discuss brain injuries

By From page A5 | October 10, 2012

Stanley Prusiner. Courtesy photo

Nobel Laureate Stanley Prusiner, a neurologist who discovered a class of infectious proteins that cause mad cow disease and related neurodegenerative ailments in animals and people, will present a free, public lecture Friday at UC Davis.

Prusiner’s public talk, which begins at 5:30 p.m. in Freeborn Hall, will be titled “Brain Injuries: Soldiers, Football Players and Alzheimer’s Patients.” It is sponsored by the Dyar Lectureship program in the School of Veterinary Medicine.

Earlier that day, Prusiner will present a more technical lecture for veterinary students on “The Molecular Biology of Mammalian Prions.” That talk will begin at noon in Room 1020 of Valley Hall.

Prusiner, a neurology professor and director of the Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases at UC San Francisco, received the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of the disease-causing proteins that he named prions.

His research demonstrated that prions are formed and become infectious when a normal, benign cellular protein acquires an altered shape — a theory that he recalls initially unleashed a “torrent of criticism” in the scientific community. At that time, most scientists thought that proteins could have only one biologically active form.

Eventually, evidence for prions accumulated and the concept of their infectious abilities gained wide acceptance among scientists. During the past 20 years, abnormalities in protein processing, have been found also to be the cause of more common neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

Prusiner’s current research focuses on determining the atomic structure of prions, deciphering how they replicate and defining how biological properties are encoded in prion strains. He is also working to develop therapeutic drugs that slow the decline in patients with Alzheimer’s,Parkinson’s and prion diseases, as well as frontotemporal dementia.

The Robert Dyar Labrador Memorial Lectureship in Epidemiology, the sponsor of Prusiner’s campus talks, was established through an endowment by the late Robert Dyar, a physician who served for 30 years as chief of the preventive medicine and research divisions in the California Department of Public Health

Through the endowed lectureship, Dyar wanted to recognize UCD’s pioneer achievements in the field of veterinary epidemiology and to extend his gratitude to practicing veterinarians for the medical care provided to his companion Labrador retrievers.

— UC Davis News Service

Pat Bailey

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