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Fatal brain disease linked to mad cow, study finds

A strange yet fatal brain disease that bears similarities to Parkinson's disease has been found to stem from a misfolded protein called a prion, the same disorder that leads to mad cow disease. According to a report from NBC News, the disease, called multiple system atrophy, or MSA, affects up to 50,000 Americans at any given time.

According to a press release from the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke, symptoms of MSA usually appear in a person's 50's and progress quickly over the next five to ten years. People rapidly lose motor function and are eventually confined to bed. Pneumonia is a common side effect and patients often die suddenly from heart or respiratory issues.

MSA has no cure, and can often be confused with Parkinson's disease. Dr. Stanley Prusiner from the University of California San Francisco was curious if MSA was also caused by a prion, like mad cow and other related diseases.

Prusiner won the 1997 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discovery of prions. Prions spread disease throughout the brain by coming in contact with other proteins and making them malfunction.