Bullseye for Mad Cow Disease Drug Treatment

Discovery yields drug target for mad cow disease and related prion diseases

(RxWiki News) Scientists from the University of Kentucky have found that a protein our body uses to break up blood clots speeds up the progress of prion diseases.

The substance (known as plasminogen) acts as a new drug target for prion diseases in both humans and animals. Prion diseases are a related group of rare, fatal brain diseases (i.e. mad cow disease) that are characterized by certain misshapen protein molecules that appear in brain tissue. The diseases affect animals and humans alike.

"I hope that our study will aid in developing therapy for prion diseases, which will ultimately improve the quality of life of patients," said Chongsuk Ryou, Ph.D., a researcher involved in the work from the University of Kentucky.

Since prion diseases can remain undetected for decades, "delaying the ability of the disease-associated prion protein to replicate by targeting the cofactor of the process could be a monumental implication for treatment," said Ryou.

Researchers used simple test-tube reactions -- conducted in the presence or absence of plasminogen -- to multiply disease-associated prion proteins and found that the natural replication of the prions was stimulated by plasminogen in both human and animal cells.

"Rogue prions are one of nature's most interesting, deadly and least understood biological freakshows," said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. "They are neither virus nor bacteria, but they kill or harm you just the same. By showing how prions hijack our own clot-busting machinery, this work points to a new target for anti-prion therapy."

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Review Date: 
December 1, 2010