Prions are small molecules that are mainly made up of protein, and appear to contain no nucleic acids. Despite apparently having no genetic material, they can still transmit diseases in humans and animals. Providing convincing evidence that the protein is the infectious agent of the prion, are reports that prions and the diseases they spread are resistant to treatments that modify nucleic acids.
Most people are likely more familiar with prion diseases in animals:
- Scrapie: sheep
- CWD: chronic wasting disease, muledeer and elk
- BSE: bovine spongiform encephalopathy, cattle
Examples of prion diseases in humans are:
- CJD: Creutzfeld-Jacob Disease
- GSS: Gerstmann-Straussler-Scheinker syndrome
- FFI: Fatal familial Insomnia
Cancer is a disease with many different causes including genetic mutations and retrovirus infection. In recent years, however, many links have been found between prions and various types of cancer. In 2009, researchers found a prion biomarker for pancreatic cancer (Li et al., 2009) and in another report it was demonstrated that prion protein (PrP) antibodies slowed the rate of tumor growth in colon cancer (McEwan et al., 2009).
Li, C. et al. 2009. Binding of pro-prion to filamin A disrupts cytoskeleton and correlates with poor prognosis in pancreatic cancer. J. Clinical Investigation 119(9):2725-2736. doi:10.1172/JCI39542.
McEwan, J. et al. 2009. Antibodies to prion protein inhibit human colon cancer cell growth. Tumor Biology 30:141-147. doi:10.1159/000225243.