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In 1997 Stanley B Prusiner received a Nobel Prize the world's most prestigious award for achievement in physiology or medicine That he was the sole recipient of the award for the year was entirely appropriate for his struggle to identify the agent responsible for ravaging the brains of animals suffering from scrapie and mad cow disease and of humans with Creutzfeldt Jakob disease had been waged largely alone and in some cases in the face of strenuous disagreement   In this book Prusiner tells the remarkable story of his discovery of prions—infectious proteins that replicate and cause disease but surprisingly contain no genetic material—and reveals how superb and meticulous science is actually practiced using talented teams of researchers who persevere He recounts the frustrations and rewards of years of research and offers fascinating portraits of his peers as they raced to discover the causes of fatal brain diseases Prusiner’s hypothesis once considered heresy now stands as accepted science and the basis for developing diagnoses and eventual cures He closes with a meditation on the legacy of his discovery What will it take to cure Alzheimer’s Parkinson’s Lou Gehrig’s and other devastating diseases of the brain?


10 thoughts on “Madness and Memory

  1. says:

    I'm rating this 4 Stars only because despite the author's genius level intellect and enviable general erudition the writing still feels awkward like watching an uncoordinated couple dance the Tango with Arthur Murray Studios perfection but no sense of rhythm or soul That said the prose is competent and pretty good for a scientist I've certainly read worse who is doing his own writingThe story of Dr Prusiner's 30 year uest to uncover a completely new modality of infection that he named prion to distinguish it from bacteria viruses and all other infectious particles then known and the much difficult and frustrating struggle to beat back the often gratuitous naysayers and petty backbiters in the science community and the opportunist know nothing press all determined to substitute their prejudices for his gruelingly detailed and meticulous lab work is a great science whodunit and a tribute to the human spirit of discovery and the kind of persistence it takes to bring something really new to be recognized with a Nobel PrizeIt certainly helps to have even a smattering of science background but even if you skip the most technical parts which one can tell that the author has sought to either eliminate or moderate as much as possible anyone can appreciate the insight into the bruiseingly competitive world of scientific research at the highest level


  2. says:

    Stan Prusiner is a prominent scientist working in the field of neurodegenerative disorders He won the Nobel Prize in 1997 for his groundbreaking discovery of prions misfolded proteins that cause diseases like mad cow disease Much of the work on prions was done in late 1970'searly 1980's and it was an immensely controversial idea Established dogma held that diseases are transmitted by DNA andor RNA species like bacteria or viruses Prusiner's discoveries aided by work done by many others in the field as well rightfully shifted the paradigm but he faced an uphill task convincing the community In this memoir he describes the laborious task of isolating and identifying the agent that causes scrapie mad cow's version in sheep He also describes the hostility he faced both at his own institution UCSF where he still works and at other places Initially even he was in disbelief when he discovered that misfolded proteins can transmit disease without the aid of any genetic material but as the evidence increased he mounted a vigorous campaign to widely publish his work and convince others A lot of science memoirs are sterilized ie the writer scrubs the past clean and all too often portray himherself as a lone idealistic crusader interested only in unearthing the lofty truth Prusiner's memoir is not one of those Here you will find all the dirty laundry aired in its full glory Every feud petty or otherwise gets a detailed treatment Every person who slighted or supported him gets a mention Prusiner doesn't hold back on his opinions and this book is refreshing for that I gave this book three stars instead of four because I believe it flounders terribly towards the end After spending pages and pages painstakingly outlining his research and displaying immense maturity in refusing to overstate his claims Prusiner gets careless and starts speculating wildly about prions in other neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's I work in the same field of research and there is this idea that has gained traction recently that a whole host of diseases like AD Parkinson's etc could be triggered and developed in a person's brain through a 'prion like' manner There is limited evidence showing this might be the case but a lot of other issues have to be worked out For Prusiner to rashly call amyloid beta peptide the main component of plaues seen in Alzheimer's a prion is gross overexaggeration and is misleading His speculation mars an otherwise good book


  3. says:

    Prions were and are mind bending They broke the rules we learned in biology before 1980 and even after I recall one of my professors in school working on the slow virus responsible for scrapie in sheep I wonder what happened to her? Infectious proteins? But this is the stuff of sciencediscovering something really new Prusiner lays it out from his beginning as a medical student leading up to winning the Nobel prize for his adventurous insights It wasn't my field but I read the stories in Science and elsewhere as it developed Exciting stuff Except I didn't realize that Poor Stanley was so abused during that time At least he felt unappreciated All the while he was winning large grants publishing well and collaborating well Yes I think he complains too much `I enjoyed the story following the steps leading to the conclusions about prions and the machinations to make it all work Science is excitingI was thoroughly distracted by his whining throughout the book Everyone he meets is either a wonderful person who advances Prusiner's career or a selfish narrow minded cretin who get their just desserts when Prusiner is successful AGAINST ALL ODDS and they are proved to be shallow obstructive and ultimately copycat scientists Whatever I enjoyed reading an inside story of the Prion work An autobiography by Prusiner is about as inside as it can get But if we want to know about Prusiner we need to wait for someone to write a biography describing him as a dedicated innovative and competitive scientists He has a massive ego and a very thin skin He doesn't seem to like writers who do not find him sweet and victimized so it may be a while before we see that biography The writing reminded me of scientific writing We scientists can readily assembly words but we do it in a very suare and repetitive fashion Once we find a way of describing something clearly we use the same formula over and over again Prusiner introduces each person to the story by first telling approximate height color of hair and their build Nevertheless prions are amazing Thats why this got than 1 star There are a lot of amazing things in this world and it takes geniuses like Prusiner to bring them to our attention


  4. says:

    35 stars rounded up to 4 stars Madness and Memory is an admirable attempt at explaining the step by step progression of a surprising scientific breakthrough starting from the initial mystery of the neurological disorders scrapie kuru and Creutzfeldt Jakob disease to the discovery of the prion protein PrP some creative genetic experimentation with mice and hamsters and the eventual awarding of a 1997 Nobel Prize to Stanley B PrusinerThe book's strengths include its sometimes successful explanations of complex biologicalexperimentalchemical principles an inside look at the disturbing politics involved in challenging scientific orthodoxy and a compelling account of Prusiner's emotional journey warts and all as he pursued his researchUnfortunately many of the explanations are not accessible to a layperson despite the fact that the book is written for a non academic audience Moreover some of the dramatic twists and turns of the prion story seem to depend heavily on certain experiments and ideas which when not properly explained make it difficult to appreciate the events that are being describedI recommend this book only to patient andor biologically savvy readers


  5. says:

    As a scientist focused on prion research I was really curious to read about the journey that led to the discovery of prions I considered Prusiner to be a really interesting character and that proved to be right Unfortunately in a bad way as I found his manners repulsive I understand it had to be extremely hard to prove his theory in front of and in spite of the whole world I just feel like my hero did not meet my expectations and is not my hero any His character is extremely egocentric and full of self pity I was really glad when he finally received the Nobel Prize as this meant the book has finally come to an end The science parts help to understand the basis of prion research and I found this helpful However following Prusiner's repeated advice I will stick to reading his papers in future


  6. says:

    A fascinating autobiographical account of one of the most surprising scientific discoveries of the past few decades The lofty opening uotes made me a bit wary but this isn’t nearly as self aggrandising as they would suggest Frank and personally honest yes but also realistic and informative This is the story of prions as Prusiner remembers it and it’s a valuable book for that reason alone The backbone of the book is a detailed and lucid account of the process by which this scientific puzzle turned in to a significant discovery complete with dead ends contradictory data and alternative hypotheses It’s really good pop sci writing I particularly appreciated the little asides to expand on the technical nuance without breaking the flow of the story It’s also the sort of thing I wished I’d read when I was a teenager for its strong sense of how an academic research career works I might have considered that route a lot earlier than I ultimately didThe intriguing part is Prusiner’s personal stake The protein only hypothesis for the spread of scrapie and similar diseases was met with vigorous scepticism from all uarters even from Prusiner himself initially and we get to really feel what it was like for him to have to try to build the collaborations and resources needed to explore the problem Friendships are formed strained or lost over the issue and the eventual priority suabbles when prions start to become accepted There’s a lot of academic back biting and some genuinely remarkable characters The tone seems to reflect Prusiner’s feelings at the time shifting from a mixture of earnest confused disappointment and warm collegiality to vindication alloyed with frustration as his ideas gain traction and the press starts to side with the staunchly anti prion virologist communityI don’t know that this is a definitive account of the discovery goodness knows I’ll have to read a great deal to get other participants’ takes on the controversies but it’s a superb introduction to the science and an essential perspective on the history


  7. says:

    When I was an undergrad I came to realise that there are two kinds of professors the ones who are passionate about passing down the knowledge and actively engage in their lectures; and the ones who only wanted to do research and resented having to teach and actively hated undergrad students Reading this book was like listening to a professor of the latter kind This book was one of those books that I endured rather than enjoyed cause mamma didn't raise no uitter I gritted my teeth and counted down the pages As much as the topic fascinated me the writing was dry and this book was a memoir in the most literal sense the author literally wrote a step by step recollection of every nitty gritty detail along the way I don't know how much science the author expects the average reader to know spending your life in the ivory towers has that effect on people but the author clearly overestimated the average reader's grasp on biology and science Some of the rationale and interpretations for his experiments were pretty much incomprehensible It's clear that the author has a passion but unfortunately he could not share this passion with the reader I'd love to be able to follow his writing on the experiments and be like wow that's brilliant but instead I was left with this super science mumble jumble is probably brilliant because who am I to argue with a Nobel prize laureate?It's a bit of a shame that the author took such an interesting topic and turned it into the literary euivalent of powdered cement Maybe I'm just not smart enough to be his intended reader 3 stars out of respect for a brilliant man who just happens to be not very good at writing about science for a general audience


  8. says:

    Firstly I am grateful that Stanley Prusiner chose to write his account and story of the discovery of prions These accounts continue to inspire the next generation of scientists and researchers As an undergraduate myself I love every opportunity to learn about the careers and journeys of other scientistsMadness and Memory is a story of the scientific process of the discovery of prions from when Stanley Prusiner chose to pursue the topic of scrapie to future directions for neurodegenerative disease research The book covers a lot of scientific detail and methods of how the landmarks in prion research were reached There is also a massive emphasis on the conversations that happen between the research The collaborative efforts with other researchers and the fierce controversy his work inspired are a major part of Stanley Prusiner's account While the arguments and battles of ideas are undoubtedly a critical part of the story and I have always been a fan of the dramatics of passionate scientists the writing sometimes descended into unnecessary harsh comments which could be frankly described as petty This is something that is reflected in many of the negative reviews I have readOverall I did find plenty of enjoyment in the book and I have no regrets in reading it The accounts of great minds are always valuable reads I still recommend this book for anyone interested in the history of the prion research field It is just a good idea to be aware before reading that a large portion of the book is dedicated to the negatives instead of the progress


  9. says:

    As much a sociological investigation as a scientific discovery I have always had so much respect for this man and it’s only aged over the years as a fondness for a colleague Although the style may be lacking at times this story is unbelievably true and captures exactly how the PI himself lived through this discovery Arguably one of the most important scientific discoveries since modeling DNA


  10. says:

    In this book Stan Prusiner shares experiences from his uest for the elusive infectious agent for scrapie and CJD and the unending resistance he faced from a scientific research community unable to accept his revolutionary ideas Unlike many books by other famous scientists which underplay the grueling efforts that led to successful research outcomes this book adopts a candid approach to describing research life Prusiner talks about his struggles with finding research funding obtaining tenure and finally convincing fellow researchers who remained incredulous of the theory that an infectious agent could be devoid of genetic material With a highly detailed chronological account the book in a way feels almost autobiographical despite the fact that Prusiner restricts it to his professional life with very limited mention of family Some parts are a bit too heavy in technical detail eg experimental protocols and the so called interludes While some of the interpersonal conflicts over the prion hypothesis are fundamental to the premise of this book a full chapter on his getting tenure seemed largely irrelevant The last chapter on prions in the context of neurodegenerative diseases was a bit disappointing with limited coverage as was the part on Eric Kandel's work on memory prions