New principles governing the behaviour, spread and causes of disease
The 1976 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Baruch SBlumberg and D Carleton Gajdusek for their discoveries concerning "new mechanisms for the origin and dissemination of infectious diseases".
Baruch Blumberg studied proteins in the blood and how they differed between people. In the course of his research he came across a certain protein that only appeared in people who had had what became known as hepatitis B. The protein was an antigen that represents the outer structure of the hepatitis B virus. This antigen was used to develop the first test for hepatitis B in blood, preventing it from spreading through blood transfusions. Later, a vaccine for hepatitis B was created, using the antigen, after initial tests on chimpanzees showed it to be highly effective and safe.
Carleton Gajdusek studied Kuru, a disease first found in the 1950s in New Guinea. From the first appearance of symptoms, the destruction of brain tissue results in death within 12 months. At the time this disease was shrouded in mystery as it did not appear to be due to an infectious agent (with the lack of fever or inflammation), hereditary genetic disorder or malnutrition. However, when Gajdusek implanted a sample of brain tissue into two chimpanzees he observed a very similar disease in the animals. Symptoms only appeared after two years, but the chimpanzees deteriorated so quickly that they were euthanized within four months. This appeared to be a new form of disease, which had similarities with scrapie (a disease in sheep and goats) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (or CJD). Later studies revealed that these diseases, along with BSE, were due to prions – misfolded proteins that can propagate their structure, creating aggregates and causing encephalitis.