Campus News

Researchers to develop test for deadly parasitic disease

Researchers at UGA will soon begin a study designed to identify new ways of determining treatment efficacy in Chagas disease, a potentially fatal tropical disease that infects approximately 8 million people worldwide and is the leading parasitic killer in the Americas.

There is currently no easy-to-use and reliable test available to assess if Chagas patients receiving treatment are rid of the parasite that causes the disease, Trypanosoma cruzi.

This project will assess the performance of commonly prescribed anti-parasitic drugs and hopefully lead to a new, efficient blood test to detect the parasite.

“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, Distinguished Research Professor of Cellular Biology in the Franklin College of Arts of Sciences and a member of UGA’s Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases. “The detection of T. cruzi is very difficult because of low parasite numbers and the fact that these parasites are primarily in deep tissues such as the heart.”

In the first-ever large-scale study, Tarleton will team up with researchers at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute to study treatment of nonhuman primates that have become infected with the parasite in their outdoor living environment.

The animals will be treated with three drug regimens versus placebo, and a series of blood tests will search for evidence of infection in the blood.

The results from this project have the potential to significantly improve current treatments, but also to open the doors for new, more advanced drugs.

“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,” Tarleton said. “So the drugs go unused and people die.”

Tarleton hopes this project, which will begin within months and run until 2015, will lead to discoveries that save lives and foster the creation of new treatments for Chagas disease.