History of Kuru : NIDDK

History of Kuru

Kuru was decimating the population of the Fore people of New Guinea when the young Gajdusek, fresh from a post-doctoral fellowship with Sir McFarlane Burnett in Australia, stopped by New Guinea in 1957 because of rumors he had heard about a strange disease there. Zigas, an Australian Public Health Officer, had begun to look at the disease when he was joined by Gajdusek. Their efforts to understand the disease were frustrated for several years because although the epidemiology was consistent with an infectious basis, the pathology showed no evidence of inflammation, and it was not clear how it was transmitted. Moreover, attempts to infect mice or chicken eggs were unsuccessful. Thus, they considered toxic, hereditary, vitamin deficiency and other etiologies. Based on the similar brain pathology of scrapie and Kuru, William Hadlow in 1959 suggested that they were, in fact, the same disease. Scrapie had been shown to be infectious in 1936, and Hadlow's suggestion prompted Gajdusek and Gibbs to try harder to find infectivity in brains of Kuru patients. Eventually, they found transmission to monkeys, and others have found transmission to rodents.

Page last updated: December 18, 2008

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