Stanley B. Prusiner was born in Des Moines, Iowa on May 28, 1942. Prusiner attended the University of Pennsylvania. Prusiner received both his undergraduate degree in Chemistry and his M.D. from Penn. Prusiner then completed an internship in medicine at UCSF. From there, Prusiner went to the National Institutes of Health, where he studied glutaminases in E. coli in the laboratory of Earl Stadtman. In 1972, Prusiner returned to University of California at San Francisco to complete a residency in Neurology. Upon completion of that residency in 1974, Prusiner joined the faculty of the Neurology department at UCSF. Prusiner is a Professor of Neurology and Biochemistry at the University of California, San Francisco.
He received the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research in 1994 and was awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1997 for his discovery of prions, a class of infectious self-reproducing agents composed of protein.
The following press release from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences describes Prusiner's work:
The 1997 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is awarded to the American Stanley Prusiner for his pioneering discovery of an entirely new genre of disease-causing agents and the elucidation of the underlying priciples of their mode of action. Stanley Prusiner has added prions to the list of well known infectious agents including bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. Prions exist normally as innocuous cellular proteins, however, prions possess an innate capacity to convert their structures into highly stabile conformations that ultimately result in the formation of harmful particles, the causative agents of several deadly brain diseases of the dementia type in humans and animals. Prion diseases may be inherited, laterally transmitted, or occur spontaneously. Regions within diseased brains have a characteristic porous and spongy appearance, evidence of extensive nerve cell death, and affected individuals exhibit neurological symptoms including impaired muscle control, loss of mental acuity, memory loss and insomnia. Stanley Prusiner's discovery provides important insights that may furnish the basis to understand the biological mechanisms underlying other types of dementia-related diseases, for example Alzheimer's disease, and establishes a foundation for drug development and new types of medical treatment strategies.