Fatal Flaws: How a Misfolded Protein Baffled Scientists and Changed the Way We Look at the Brain

Jay Ingram. Yale Univ., $30 (296p) ISBN 0300189893
Science writer Ingram (Theatre of the Mind) provides a thorough overview and update on prion diseases for laypersons. Readers will find the pages turning themselves as they engage with an ongoing medical research enigma. From kuru, the disease that felled New Guineans observing a ghastly carnivorous tradition, to the sheep disease scrapie, known since 1775, to the more recent manifestations of mad cow disease and Creuzfeldt-Jakob Disease in humans, Ingram details the symptoms that mystified researchers for decades until misfolded proteins, named "prions", were identified and hypothesized as the cause of these fatal neurodegenerative diseases. Though their exact roles are still debated, misfolded proteins have now been implicated in Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, ALS, and other human diseases, as well as Chronic Wasting Disease in deer. Ingram balances his narrative with facts and theories to provide a fascinating view into the complexities of cellular life, with several illustrations and photomicrographs to enable the lay reader to visualize what scientists have observed. Noting that puzzles still remain to be solved, Ingram concludes that "prions have revolutionized thinking about how disease can spread... and they still may open doors to the understanding of conditions like Alzheimer's."(Mar.)
Reviewed on: 03/18/2013
Release date: 03/01/2013
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