Biomarkers could change the course of Chagas' disease treatment

This image shows a trypanosome (yellow) among host red blood cells.--Courtesy of Gull Lab, Sir William Dunn School of Pathology/Wellcome Images

A $3 million grant will fund U.S. researchers in their hunt for markers to track the progress of treatment of Chagas' disease, a parasitic disease that affects around 8 million people a year, and causes more deaths than malaria in the Americas.

Chagas' disease drugs have to be administered for long periods and are not always effective, and there is currently no easy-to-use or reliable test. Reliable biomarkers like this could improve compliance from the perspective of both the doctors and the patients, and could be used to support the development of better drugs and track their efficacy in clinical trials. They could also encourage pharma and biotech companies to invest in this area.

The Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) has received a £1.9 million ($3 million) Strategic Translation Award from the Wellcome Trust to fund a three-year study to find markers to measure parasite clearance from the blood. The study will evaluate different blood tests in macaques that were naturally infected with the disease in an outdoor environment, looking at their treatment with three commonly used drug regimes.

"The major problem in terms of drug treatment for Chagas' disease is that it is virtually impossible to determine if the treatment is effective," said Rick Tarleton, member of UGA's Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases. "There are several existing compounds that are available for use in the treatment of Chagas' disease, but they are not frequently used because there is not an acceptable test to tell if they actually worked."

The Texas Biomedical Research Institute (TBRI) will work with the animals, in this, the first large-scale study, and TBRI and the University of Georgia will carry out biomarker analysis. The samples will be banked and made available to other researchers.

Chagas' disease is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, and is the leading cause of heart failure in Latin America, and the leading cause of death among young-to-middle-age adults in endemic areas of South America. Its costs are high, both directly, in treatment costs, and indirectly in economic losses adding up to more than $1 billion a year. The disease is spreading into the U.S., Europe, Australia and Japan.

- read the press release from the Wellcome Trust
- see the article from the University of Georgia

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