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What Disease Does The Joker Have?

Batman may be the vengeancein the night and all, but maybe more importantly, he's also the world's greatest detective who knows that sometimes youhave to use logic and science in order to understand your enemies, both inside and out. So, what disease does the Joker have? Let's get technical. To the Kyle computer!

The Joker is obviously homicidal. He is frequently overcomewith uncontrollable bouts of laughter, andhe has little regard for the wellbeing of other human beings. These are consistentpsychological symptoms that must have some neurologicalunderpinnings in his brain. I was supposed to be g...

Now, most of the time on this program we piece together pop culture and science to try to come to anacceptable conclusion for each. But in this particular case, Batman being the greatdetective that he is, has already done a lot of the work for us. You were s... Ah. In one of the entries in the fantastic Arkham series of video games, more specifically Arkham Knight, Batman is fighting to containa transmissible pathogen that turns people into Jokers, a Joker disease if you will. And in that game he identifies it as a mutated form ofCreutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. And he's not just makingthese words up either.

This is a very real diseasethat is no laughing matter. Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, or CJD, is a degenerative braindisease similar to Alzheimer's. It is transmissible,incurable, and 100% fatal. The malady affects aboutone in a million people across the globe each year, and the Arkham games musthave done their research, because when you look into CJD symptoms it starts to kinda fitwith Joker pathology. The progression of the disease involves changes in personality, changes in walking or gate and movement, possible psychosis, hallucinations, and paranoia.

It all starts to sound maybe plausible. And CJD can cause such changesto personality and mind because of what it does to the brain. To the Kyle radiography lab! That's not catchy! CJD is one of less than 10diseases affecting humans that we term transmissiblespongiform encephalopathies, or TSE. Transmissible because you can get them from infected tissue or bodily fluids. Encephalopathy becauseit affects your brain. And spongiform becauseof what these diseases physically do to the brain. I'm about to show you some brain scans, and they're not graphic,but just in case you do not want to see anykind of medical anything, these are just MRI shots,I am warning you right now. Okay, so here are some brain scans. The brain on the leftis from a normal patient and the brain on the right has CJD. You can immediately tellthat something is off.

So let's look closerinto the tissue itself. You can see normal tissueon the top in this scan now, and on the bottom it lookslike the brain tissue has holes in it, and it does. TSEs form holes in the brain,and holes in the brain, giving it a sponge-likeappearance, spongiform, may start to explain Joker behavior. Oh. Oh, this flower probably smells lovely. Ah! I've been had! But CJD isn't caused byfalling into a vat of chemicals or being Jared Leto. It's not caused by any fungus,parasite, virus or bacteria. No, Joker disease mightbe caused by prions. The word prion is a portmanteauof protein and infection. And what makes prions so unique is that unlike bacteria,viruses, parasites, things that you could consider alive, prions are lifeless andalmost indestructible. Proteins like this squiggly boy here are large moleculesmade out of amino acids, according to the geneticinstructions you hold in every single one of your cells. And proteins are involved in just about everything your body does. For example, this one is found on the outside surface of your cells. Now we don't know exactlywhy it happens yet, but every so often a proteinlike this can misfold.

You can see that itsthree dimensional shape will change rather significantly, and this seems like it could be harmless, but the really scary thing is is that just this simple molecular mistake can make this proteinmimic a deadly infection. Just like how the Joker canmaster others with his madness, prions can cause other proteins to misfold in exactly the sameway when they interact. We're not sure how everyprion process happens, but basically something like this happens. A normal protein will comeinto contact with a prion, and similarly misfold. These misfolded proteins will then tend to stick together as more and more normal proteins comeinto contact with them. Eventually you have a bigclump of prion protein that then somehow, we're now sure exactly what causes it to do this, it splits off into other infectious seeds that go on to make more and more prions.

This exponentially increasing infection can literally lead to large clumps of prion protein called amyloids, forming in and around a person's cells, like these brain cells here, which can cause celldamage and cell death. And if all that wasn't bad enough, these amyloids are extremely resistant to destruction by regular means, which makes prion diseasesalmost untreatable. To the Kyle computer! Going back to our brainscans from earlier, we now know how a prion disease like Creutzfeldt-Jakob can causea spongiform encephalopathy. Amyloid build ups in the brain which can cause cell death and damage, and because it's damaging the brain it invariably causes changesto behavior and personality. If there were a mutated Joker prion that was blood transmissible, Batman might be exactlyright in his diagnosis.

However, I wonder if thereisn't another prion disease that fits the cowl a little better. If we really wanted a real world analog for what may be going onin Joker's mutated mind, maybe we should look at the prion disease known for his most famous symptom. In 1951 an Australian patrolofficer named Arthur Carey published a report calling attention to an apparently new disease ravaging the Fore peoples of Papua New Guinea, which was controlled byAustralia at the time. In his report, he called the disease Kuru, coming from the Fore word for to shake. In his report he noticedthe uncontrollable tremors, the shaking, the loss of mobility and control in those affected, but he also noted something very striking. Uncontrollable bursts of laughter.

Kuru is also known asthe laughing disease. When scientists followedCarey and others reports a few years later they found that Kuru was spreading through the Forepeople like an epidemic. And to find out why,they had to do a little detective work of their own. In 1957 American scientistCarleton Gajdusek started doing his own experiments. He started doing experiments with chimps to see if Kuru could be spread through the ingestion of infected tissue, more specifically brain tissue. Now you may think, whywere scientists concerned with the ingestion of infected tissue? Well in this case itwas extremely important because the Fore peopletraditionally practiced what's called funerary cannibalism. Upon their death, the people would eat the bodies and brains of their loved ones, in the hopes of freeing their souls and their spirits from their bodies.

Gajdusek and his work hadproved that eating brains was what was spreading Kuruthrough the Fore people, and disproportionately tothe young women and girls who were eating the braintissue during these practices. And we also now thinkthat this all started from a random case of CJD. Gajdusek's work led theAustralian administration to ban this practice in1960, and afterwards, cases of Kuru started to drop, and 20 years later, Gajdusekwon a Nobel Prize in medicine. Bruce Wayne would be proud. The discovery of Kuru was one of the first big pieces of evidencethat pointed towards prions as a new infectious agent. And you should know that since the 1960s the Kuru situation in Papua New Guinea has gotten a lot better. Depending on the stance that you read, there hasn't been arelated death since 2005, and recent studies actually suggest that the Papua peopleare actually evolving resistance to Kuru in real time.

Given the possible changes in behavior, the transmissivity, the psychosis, the hallucinations, andthe pathological laughter that a prion disease might cause, I think we have to say that Batman, at least in the Arkham Knight, might be exactly right. A prion disease like CJD, like Kuru, or a mutated form of Joker prion, could produce Joker-like symptoms. A contracted joker disease if you will. Alfred, take us home. - [Alfred] Back to the void it is, sir. - So, what disease doesthe Joker really have? Well based on video game andBatman law and real science, I think we can say thatJokeritis is indeed a transmissible prion disease that causes enough damage and cell death to make specific andspecifically disturbing changes to Joker's brain.

Not everything about the Joker's diagnosis fits with real worldCreutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, but it's close enough that I think I'm comfortable with saying that Batman's capabilities as theworld's greatest detective stands up to scrutiny. Because science. Ha ha, nailed it. (upbeat music) There's even more evidencethat Joker disease, Jokeritis, as he calls it inthe game, is definitely a TSE or transmissiblespongiform encephalopathy, in the game, it's an offhand comment, but he calls it mad clown disease, which is a play on mad cow disease, which is one of the more famous TSEs, which is just more evidence. But, we should also note that when we talk about Joker disease we're leaving out a lot of the terrible symptoms.

Like I said, CJD is like Alzheimer's, so you're also dealingwith terrible memory loss, the prognosis is less than twoyears that you have to live, and it's a terrible, terribledisease to go through. So obviously the Joker doesn'thave any of those symptoms but if we pick and choose a few of them, say it's a mutated form,then it might start to fit, but we must remember that these diseases are definitely terrible things that we need science to solve. Thank you so much for watching, Gary. If you like this videoabout Batman and the Joker you might like some ofother Because Science Joker related videos, like how deadly is theJoker's magic trick? And what poison is on Poison Ivy's lips? And you can also followus here at these handles to give us suggestions for future episodes and leave us your nerdiest comments, corrections and questions, everywhere that you can see this video. Thanks. 


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