Stanley B. PrusinerDirector, Professor | San Francisco, California
Stanley B. Prusiner is Director of the Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases and Professor of Neurology and Biochemistry at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF). He received his B.A. in Chemistry in 1964 and his M.D. in 1968 from the University of Pennsylvania. After completing his military service as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Public Health Service at the National Institutes of Health and his neurology residency training at UCSF, he joined the UCSF faculty in 1974 and set up a laboratory to study brain diseases.
Prusiner discovered an unprecedented class of pathogens that he named prions. Prions are proteins that acquire an alternative shape that becomes self-propagating. As prions accumulate, they cause neurodegenerative diseases in animals and humans. Prusiner’s discovery lead him to develop a novel disease paradigm: prions cause disorders such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) in humans that manifest as (1) sporadic, (2) inherited and (3) infectious illnesses. When proposed, many scientists considered Prusiner’s concept of “infectious proteins” as well as his proposal that a single protein could possess multiple biologically active shapes or conformations to be heretical. Based on his seminal discovery that prions can assemble into amyloid fibrils, Prusiner proposed that the more common neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases may be caused by prions.