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Tremors in the Nerves

Investigating Kuru


Author(s)

Deena E. Afana

University of California, Irvine
Autreen Golzar

University of California, Irvine
Andrew Q. Dong

University of California, Irvine
Johnny D. Nguyen

University of California, Irvine
Vanessa G. Delgado

University of California, Irvine
Laura B. Morel

University of California, Irvine
Jaclene A. Torres

University of California, Irvine
David A. Beshai

University of California, Irvine
Andrea C. Nicholas
Department of Neurobiology and Behavior
University of California, Irvine
acnichol@uci.edu

Abstract

This case study is designed to provide students with a comprehensive understanding (i.e., symptoms, mechanism, methods of diagnosis, transmission, and prevention) of the neurodegenerative disorder known as Kuru disease. Although Kuru is clinically rare, it provides an interesting “hook” for those interested in learning about other prion-related diseases that are more common (e.g., Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy) while also providing a cautionary tale about the ease and risk of misdiagnosis. The case consists of two components: an introductory PowerPoint presentation (see Supplemental Materials) reviewing the history, causes, symptoms, and diagnosis of Kuru as a result of infectious prions, and the case study handout in which students, working together in small groups, assume the role of administrative physicians reviewing a hypothetical case of a Kuru infected patient. The group activity highlights the detrimental effects of Kuru and how a misdiagnosis could easily result due to confusion with other prevalent neurodegenerative diseases (e.g., Parkinson’s disease). The case is best suited for undergraduate students taking introductory human biology, cell biology, or other pre-health related courses.


Objectives

  • Understand the symptoms, diagnosis, transmission, and prevention of Kuru.
  • Understand the laboratory tests that could be administered for Kuru and why a spinal tap is the most effective method for diagnosis.
  • Explain why Kuru can be easily misdiagnosed as a more prevalent neurodegenerative disease.
  • Understand the mechanisms by which prions cause brain dysfunction.

Keywords

Kuru; kuru disease; prion disease; prions; neurodegenerative disease; Papua New Guinea; Fore;

Topical Areas

N/A

Educational Level

Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division

Format

PDF, PowerPoint

Type / Methods

Directed, Discussion, Role-Play

Language

English

Subject Headings

Biology (General)  |   Cell Biology  |   Epidemiology  |   Medicine (General)  |   Neuroscience  |   Physiology  |   Public Health  |   Science (General)  |  


Date Posted

03/04/2021

Teaching Notes

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Teaching notes are intended to help teachers select and adopt a case. They typically include a summary of the case, teaching objectives, information about the intended audience, details about how the case may be taught, and a list of references and resources.

Supplemental Materials

The PowerPoint presentation below provides an overview of the history, causes, symptoms, and diagnosis of Kuru as a result of infectious prions.

  
  kuru.pptx

Answer Key

Answer keys for the cases in our collection are password-protected and access to them is limited to paid subscribed instructors. To become a paid subscriber, begin the process by registering.

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