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NIH funds Heritage College study examining Chagas disease transmission routes

(ATHENS, Ohio — Oct. 29, 2014) The Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine has received a $407,558 grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the geographic transmission patterns of the parasite that causes Chagas, a potentially fatal disease infecting about 11 million people in Mexico, Central America and South America. Mario Grijalva, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and director of the Tropical Disease Institute, is working with a collection of universities around the world to better understand how this deadly disease is disseminated in southern Ecuador and northern Peru.

The main transmission of Chagas is via a nocturnal insect known as the “kissing bug,” which carries a microscopic parasite that it spreads to victims after biting them and sucking their blood. The parasite can live inside its host for up to 20 years before causing health problems, or symptoms can appear within a few weeks of infection. Chagas can cause fever, heart failure or damage to the digestive system. Currently, there is no effective cure for Chagas, which the World Health Organization has listed as one of 17 neglected tropical diseases because of the historic lack of funding and research attention it has received.

Chagas is found predominantly in rural, impoverished areas of Latin America, although it is spreading to other parts of the world. An estimated 300,000 people in the United States carry the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease awarded the three-year grant to the Heritage College to conduct genotyping on both the insect and the parasite and to identify and predict spatial transmission routes and environmental factors that contribute to the distribution of the disease across southern Ecuador and northern Peru.

“We expect this study will provide a model that can be used to study the dispersal and distribution of other neglected tropical diseases,” said Grijalva. “Understanding the spatial transmission routes of Chagas is critical if we are to interrupt the spread of the disease and implement successful measures to control it.”

In Ecuador, Ohio University and Catholic University of Ecuador jointly operate a Center for Infectious and Chronic Disease Research, which provides the project with trained personnel and infrastructure to conduct high-level biomedical research in northern South America.

“The Tropical Disease Institute promotes multi-national and multi-disciplinary collaborations among researchers and health care professionals,” said Heritage College Executive Dean Kenneth H. Johnson, D.O. “Dr. Grijalva’s valuable project is an example of how collaborative efforts can be implemented to improve the health of underserved populations around the world.”

The Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine is a leader in training dedicated primary care physicians who are prepared to address the most pervasive medical needs in the state and the nation. Approximately 50 percent of Heritage College alumni practice in primary care and nearly 60 percent practice in Ohio. CARE LEADS HERE.

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Last updated: 01/28/2016