D. Carleton Gajdusek
Born: 9 September 1923, Yonkers, NY, USA
Died: 12 December 2008, Tromsø, Norway
Affiliation at the time of the award: National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA
Prize motivation: "for their discoveries concerning new mechanisms for the origin and dissemination of infectious diseases."
Prize share: 1/2
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and related illnesses among people and animals involves the degeneration of brain cells. Carleton Gajdusek studied kuru, a rare disease, among the Fore people of New Guinea. He arrived at the conclusion that kuru was spread through the ritualistic eating of deceased relatives. Carleton Gajdusek succeeded in transmitting the infection to chimpanzees in the 1960s. The long period, often several years, between exposure to the infection and contraction of the disease indicated that it involved a previously unknown type of infectious agent.