In 1997, Professor of neurology at UCSF, Stanley Prusiner, won the Nobel Prize for his discovery of the prion, a novel infectious pathogen that causes a group of fatal diseases. Prusiner and a team of University of California, San Francisco scientists actually discovered “prions” in 1982.  Highly controversial at the time because it challenged received wisdom about what causes disease, the discovery of prions has forced scientists to rethink prior assumptions about the causes of certain kinds of diseases, such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or “mad cow” disease, as well as other neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, which is the fourth leading cause of death among Americans.  Prusiner’s discovery represents a classic example of scientists overcoming resistance to new ideas because of a set of prior beliefs.

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