Although prion research has been going on for over 25 years, the scientific and medical communities have only recently acknowledged the existence of prions and there remains serious debate over their role in a variety of neurological diseases. The name "prion" is derived from "proteinaceous infectious particles," and was coined by Dr. Stanley Prusiner, who discovered the agents and who recently received the Nobel Prize for Medicine for his work. Prions are thought to be the first transmissible and heritable disease-causing agents that lack DNA and RNA. They are composed solely of protein and appear to be the cause of such diseases as kuru and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans, and bovine spongiform encephalopathies, mad cow disease, and scrapie in sheep and goats.
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