(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
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
“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.
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