Understanding the Potential Dangers of Prion Diseases

2011-01-12 | |
Last updated: 2011-01-12

How Are Prion Diseases Caused?

Although they typically affect humans very rarely, prion diseases can occur for a number of reasons. Based on research from the Scripps Research Institute and University College London, prions can occur spontaneously in brain tissue. In one case, the researchers found that the simple presence of a metallic surface in the brain was enough to trigger the formation of these misfolded prion proteins. While the existence of metallic surfaces in the brain is certainly abnormal, the fact that the mere presence of metal can cause the condition is certainly concerning.

A different cause of prion disease discovered by researchers from the Whitehead Institute is genetic mutation. In their research, the scientists found that a change to a single gene was all that was required for the condition to develop. The single change caused both the accumulation of prions and the ability of these prions to be transmitted from one individual to another. Compared to many diseases that require multiple genetic defects in order to develop, a mutation in a single gene is something that can occur much more easily

In addition to these forms of disease transmission, yet another way in which prion disease can be passed on is through blood transfusions. In studies involving animals, researchers from the University of Glasgow determined that one animal variety of prion disease that is similar to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease infected roughly 40% of those animals that received a transfusion from an infected individual. Without any current blood tests that can detect prion diseases, this research suggests that blood transfusions have the potential to pose risks to blood supplies.  

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Category: Disease Information, Disease Prevention, General Health, Health Risks

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