A serendipitous discovery someday could offer a treatment for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and other prion diseases. Polyamine dendrimers, widely used reagents for transfection, are able to cure neural cells of certain strains of prion infections including the strain that causes BSE and new variant CJD. Now the challenge is to discover the mechanism by which these compounds convert prions to their harmless forms, optimize and deliver them. In the meantime, polyamine dendrimers may be useful for destroying prions in transplanted tissues, skin and on medical instruments.

Polyamine dendrimers are highly branched positively charged molecules widely used to introduce foreign DNA into cells. One commercially available dendrimer marketed as the SuperFect transfection reagent by Qiagen N.V. turns out to have a surprising property: the ability to cause prion proteins to convert from the pathologic