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Scientists for the first time recreated human prions – mysterious proteins that destroy people’s brains

Their nature was still unknown, but now it can change.

A picture of the frontal lobe of the patient's brain, prion sick. Jensflorian with Wikipedia
A picture of the frontal lobe of the patient’s brain, prion sick. Jensflorian with Wikipedia

Scientists from the American private University Case Western Reserve University for the first time synthesized a strain of human prions in the laboratory. These proteins are known for leading to incurable brain diseases leading to death.

It turned out that the human prions have specific features that previously eluded scientists. Now they will be able to better study the nature of prions, their role in evolution and their impact on humans. It is possible that, thanks to the discovery, scientists will approach the treatment of incurable diseases caused by proteins. Previously, researchers have already synthesized rodent prions, but they were harmless to humans.

Prions are proteins with an unusual structure that do not contain nucleic acids, such as DNA and RNA. They are able to increase their number at the expense of ordinary cells, while forming in the victim’s brain microscopic cavities. On a chain reaction, the entire brain substance is transformed into a substance resembling a sponge, which leads to death.

Prions cause transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) in humans and animals, such as rabies in cattle, scrapie in sheep, as well as disease Creutzfeldt – Jakob disease, fatal familial insomnia and Kuru in humans. From all these diseases there is no treatment – prions are extremely resistant to any impact. In addition, they are difficult to detect, because their incubation period is estimated in tens of years, and the symptoms arise spontaneously.

Scientists have discovered diseases caused by prions as early as the 19th century, but the development of ideas about them began in 1960. Since then, researchers have not established the nature of proteins and the way they treat diseases caused by them. It is unclear how they spread and reach people: 90% of cases occur spontaneously, 10% as a result of genetics and only 1% cause the use of infected animals.

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