eISSN: 1509-572x
ISSN: 1641-4640
Folia Neuropathologica
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vol. 47

Reflections on a half-century in the field of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy

Paul Brown

Folia Neuropathol 2009; 47 (2): 95-103
Online publish date: 2009/06/29
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The subject of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy may properly be said to have begun with the experimental transmission of scrapie by Cuillé and Chelle in 1936, although Creutzfeldt and Jakob had described the disease that bears their names in 1920-21. Thirty more years passed before the human disease was also shown to be transmissible, in 1966, and the following half century has seen the field move from classical biology to molecular biology and genetics, and from ‘slow virus’ to host-encoded ‘prion’ protein.

Because nothing is more important to the research scientist than the process of seeing a problem and devising ways of solving it, and because we live and die by our publications, as much care should be given to these vehicles of our work and reputations as to the research itself. Four aspects have been chosen for comment: authorship, abbreviations, data presentation, and references.

In addition to the ‘science of research’ there are several ‘para-scientific’ activities that may be categorized as ‘the politics of research’, which include administrative duties, committees (e.g., scientific meetings, grant organizations), journal/book editing, peer reviewing, and public relations Many young scientists are either unaware or dismissive of the importance of these ‘scientific distractions’, but their potential for influencing the direction of a field of research becomes increasingly evident as careers unfold. They are subject to uses and abuses, and some guidance and examples are given by way of illustration, particular attention being paid to the process of manuscript review which, because of its anonymity, is the most vulnerable to abuse.

As public and government interest in prions wanes in parallel with the disappearance of iatrogenic and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the flow of money to sustain research is in evident jeopardy. With an uncertain future, it nevertheless seems possible that one of two things may breathe new life into the field: either an unforeseen new outbreak of human disease will occur (as has happened in the past), or a cross-fertilization between prions and the larger family of protein misfolding diseases, especially Alzheimer’s disease, will bear fruit. For obvious reasons, we should hope for the botanical alternative.

science, transmissible spongiforrm encephalopathy, authorship, data presentation, citations

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