Evolution found cure for prion disease spread by cannibalism
Nicolle Rager Fuller
Ending cannibalism stopped a deadly brain-wasting disease called kuru. But evolution already had devised a cure for the prion disease, a new study shows.
Some of the Fore people of Papua New Guinea have a naturally occurring variant of a brain protein that prevents kuru and related diseases, researchers report online June 10 in Nature. “We’ve never seen anything before that is completely protective,” says study coauthor John Collinge, a neurologist and molecular biologist at University College London. “It just switches off the disease.”
Understanding how the variant protects against prion diseases may also give new insights into Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and many other neurological diseases caused by twisted forms of normal brain proteins, he says.
Kuru results when a normal brain protein called PrP gets twisted into a disease