Chagas disease affects more than 10 million people in the world and 50,000 of those live in South America. It is crucial that the disease is identified early, but until now this has been almost impossible. New research at the MUHC has made significant progress though and the results were recently published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology.
The American trypanosomiasis, or Chagas disease, is transmitted to humans via the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi. The disease is usually transmitted through the bite of an infected insect (the "kissing bug") and it is not unusual for our students to come across cases in the hospitals. Symptoms are variable, but as the disease progresses serious chronic symptoms can appear, such as heart disease and malformation of the intestines. Most people affected may remain without symptoms for years, making diagnosis difficult. It can also transmitted from mother to unborn child and be passed on for as many as four generations without symptoms. "In other words, a person born in North America by a mother who was infected can transmit the disease to offspring without having travelled," says Dr. Ndao, Laboratory Director of the National Reference Center for Parasitology (NRCP) of the Research Institute.
The researchers have created a screening technique that identifies common biological markers between the interaction of host (humans) and the parasite. They found that in 99% of cases, the parasites left very specific markers. 'It's as if the parasite left his own signature in the infected person, which could help to diagnose Chagas disease” says Dr. Ndao.
"The use of these biomarkers is a revolution in diagnostic confidence and protection of possible contamination of blood banks,” says Dr. Ndao “Moreover, these biomarkers have potential therapeutic effects of paving the way for the development of vaccines for Chagas, which could be extended to other parasitic diseases.”