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Kuru is a fatal degenerative brain disease restricted to the Fore people and their immediate neighbours in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea. Research into kuru began in 1957, and by the mid-1980s the research responsibility had devolved entirely to the Papua New Guinea Institute of Medical Research. Collaborative studies, with the Medical Research Council Prion Unit, commenced in 1996.

Kuru provides the principal experience of an epidemic human prion disease, and one that is now reaching its end. In addition to its intrinsic interest, it provided an opportunity to learn much of relevance to understanding variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), also thought to be caused by dietary prion exposure (cattle infected with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) prions). Indeed vCJD gave kuru a new global relevance. Kuru is also of wider importance to the history of medicine and human society, and the collaboration has documented cultural practices and traditions that would otherwise have been lost.

Infection and Immunity



Dr William Pomat
Deputy Director - Science and Unit Head

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