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Tropical Disease Institute co-hosts international meeting

OU-COM institute raising awareness of Chagas Disease  

(ATHENS, Ohio) — The Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine’s (OU-COM) Tropical Disease Institute (TDI) and its partner, the Center for Infectious Disease Research  at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador (Catholic University of Ecuador) in Quito, Ecuador, will join forces to host the first National Meeting on Research into Chagas Disease on March 18.

A potentially life-threatening illness caused by a protozoan parasite spread by insects, blood transfusions and congenial contact, Chagas disease is the focus of research by OU-HCOM and the Catholic University of Ecuador. Chagas affects 13 million people, mainly in the Americas; approximately 200,000 Ecuadorians are infected with the disease.

The parasite, called Trypanosoma cruzi, is transmitted by bloodsucking insects known as triatomines. The parasites commonly infect wild and domestic mammals in South and Central America, including humans. Human infection with the parasiteChagas diseaseis a major public health concern in Latin America.

One of the major hurdles to Chagas disease control is the limited awareness and knowledge by the population and authorities,” said Mario Grijalva, Ph.D., associate professor of microbiology and director of the institute at OU-COM.

The purpose of the conference is to raise awareness about Chagas disease in Ecuador,” said Mario Grijalva, Ph.D., associate professor of microbiology and director of the TDI.  The first National Meeting on Research into Chagas Disease  conference, which will be held at the Catholic University of Ecuador, will be preceded by the 5th Meeting of the Chagas Epidemiological Network Project, attended by researchers and scientists from the United States, eight European countries and seven Latin American countries, he said.

The several hundred participants expected at the conference will include health professionals and governmental officials, Grijalva said. In addition to raising awareness of the problem, conference organizers intend to generate greater financial and other government support to combat the disease, especially in areas of public health programs and in scientific and eradication research, he said. 

“This will be a meeting of the minds and a way to encourage collaboration,” Grijalva said. “But first, we need to raise awareness and provide an effort to improve care, research and acceptance of the problem by getting people working together and talking with each other.”

Grijalva called Chagas disease a “neglected disease,” since little action has been taken to prevent its transmission and limited research has been conducted regarding treatment. The disease mainly affects underserved populations, especially those living in poverty.

“Very little was known about Chagas disease in Ecuador when I started doing research,” said Grijalva, originally from Ecuador, who started researching Chagas disease in 1992. He explained that there was a lack of awareness about the disease because researchers did not have the resources and skills necessary to study it and advocate for policies and programs that would help stop its transmission.

“Since then, funding from the World Health Organization, the National Institutes of Health and the European Union, among others, has allowed us to create research infrastructure and train personnel that can generate the knowledge needed,” Grijalva said. “However, much remains to be done to gather the public and political support needed to improve diagnostic and treatment capacity in the country.”

Grijalva described meeting attendees as some of the most prominent Chagas disease experts of the world. Those in attendance will include Dr. Michael Miles (London School of Tropical Medicine, U.K.), Dr. Yves Carlier (Universite Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium), Dr. Manuel Fresno (Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, Spain), Dr. Alejandro Luquetti (Universidade Federal de Goias, Brazil), Dr. Kevin Tyler (University of East Anglia, U.K.), Dr. Michel Tibayrenc (Institute par Research and Development, France), Dr. Bjorn Anderson (Karolinska Institute, Sweden) and Dr. Ellen Dotson (Centers for Disease Research and Prevention, Atlanta, Ga.).

“We are fortunate that so many distinguished scientists have accepted our invitation to come to Ecuador. “I hope that it will have an important impact on our overall efforts in the country and will bring international attention to the problem of Chagas disease in Ecuador,” Grijalva said.

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Last updated: 01/28/2016