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Holes in the Matter

A Case of Prion Disease


Tonya Laakko Train
Biology Department
Elon University


This case centers on a fictional group of young adults who studied abroad together in Scotland as college students. A number of them develop disease symptoms and die a few years after the trip. The cause of death is determined to be a prion disease. Applying information from pre-reading assignments as well as from the case itself, students propose hypotheses as to which prion disease was the most likely cause of death and how it was acquired. In the final section of the case study, students are asked to imagine that this occurred on their campus and write an essay explaining the disease in the case study to a general audience and why they should or should not stay on campus. The case was designed for an upper-division undergraduate course in the biochemical basis of disease and is intended to introduce students to prions and the diseases caused by this infectious protein. It could also be used in undergraduate courses dealing with infectious disease, global health, physiology, or biochemistry.

  • Know the symptoms and diagnosis of prion diseases.
  • Compare and contrast different forms of prion diseases.
  • Understand and explain the basic mechanism of transmission of the various prion diseases.
  • Understand and explain the basic molecular mechanism and pathophysiology of the various prion diseases.
Keywords: Prion; Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease; CJD; Kuru; transmissible spongiform encephalopathy; mad cow disease; infectious disease
Topical Area: N/A
Educational Level: Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Directed, Discussion, Interrupted
Language: English
Subject Headings: Cell Biology   Epidemiology   Molecular Biology   Physiology   Public Health   Biochemistry   Biology (General)   Medicine (General)   Neuroscience  
Date Posted: 4/18/2012
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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