[Skip to Navigation]
April 1977

D. Carleton Gajdusek, MD— Nobel Laureate in Medicine for 1976

Author Affiliations

National Institute of Neurological and Communicative Disorders and Stroke National Institutes of Health Bethesda, MD 20014

Arch Neurol. 1977;34(4):205-208. doi:10.1001/archneur.1977.00500160019002

The story behind the 1976 Nobel Prize in Medicine begins in Australia in 1957. Carleton Gajdusek was in Melbourne as a visiting investigator with Sir MacFarland Burnet at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research. From New Guinea a territorial health officer, Vincent Zigas, reported a strange fatal neurological disorder that was decimating the primitive Fore people in the eastern highlands. Intrigued, Gajdusek joined Zigas in 1957 to visit the area. Together they confirmed the occurrence of what the Fore people call kuru,1 and Gajdusek chose to live for the next 12 months among these people while he studied and tried to understand the disorder.

From this rather unorthodox and exotic beginning emerged the discovery of a new class of transmissible virus-like agents—the atypical slow viruses—and the recognition that degenerative disorders of the human nervous system can be caused by such agents—a totally unanticipated discovery. We are

Add or change institution