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Gajdusek, Daniel Carleton

humans slow kuru fore

(1923– ) US virologist: pioneer in study of slow virus infections.

Educated in physics at Rochester and in medicine at Harvard, Gajdusek later worked with at the California Institute of Technology, and in Iran and Papua New Guinea before returning to the USA. It was in New Guinea in the 1950s that he studied the Fore people, who frequently died from a disease they called kuru . He found that it could be passed to other primates (eg chimpanzees) but that it took 12 months or more to develop after infection. Since then other diseases have been shown, or suspected, to be due to slow and persistent virus infections (one example is the herpes ‘cold sore’, others include scrapie in sheep, ‘mad cow disease’ (BSE) in cattle and Creutzfeldt–Jakob dementia in humans). Recent evidence shows that some of these are conveyed by peculiar proteins (prions), which seem to be the smallest of all infective agents. Kuru was the first of the group to be observed and identified in humans and was suggested by Gajdusek to be transmitted among the Fore by their cannibal rituals in which the brains of the dead were eaten by their relatives. Gajdusek shared a Nobel Prize in 1976.

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