The Troublesome Toxic Prion, Modeled Cornu via WikimediaWhen proteins go rogue, polymers get busy Good news in the battle for the brain: Researchers in Sweden and Switzerland have found that toxic prions--diseased variants of naturally occurring neural proteins--can be both detected and treated with a novel kind of self-illuminating polymer. In tests, the researchers have shown that their molecules can render prions harmless, paving the way for treatments for degenerative and potentially fatal nervous system diseases, including Alzheimer's. Prions are a big problem when they get loose in the brain. They tend to clump together in groups, affecting surrounding nerve cells and usually leading to brain damage and eventually death--sometimes a very rapid death. Illnesses caused by prions can be inherited, but they can also be spontaneous or spread through infection, as is the case with mad cow disease, a fairly well-known prion condition. Once prions begin aggregating and replicating in...
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