Dr. Rick Tarleton and his research team at the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases at the University of Georgia have uncovered what could be the underlying cause of ineffectual drug treatments for Chagas disease.
Chagas disease causes irreparable damage to the heart and digestive system, and kills more than 50,000 people each year in Central and South America. Effective prevention and treatment methods are virtually nonexistent.
His team sought to determine why drug treatments such as benzimidazole, particularly effective in reducing parasite infection, frequently fail to treat this disease. They discovered that dormancy of the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi prevents drug effectiveness. For the first time, they show that a small proportion of T. cruzi parasites halt replication within 24 hours of invading the host cell. These dormant parasites are resistant to extended drug treatment and can resume replication after treatment ends, thus re-establishing a growing infection. The researchers don’t know why some of the parasites exhibit this behavior, but they are hopeful that future studies into this mechanism will shed more light on the way T. cruzi evades the host’s immune response.
“This discovery really offers a solution for current drugs to be used in a more effective way,” said Tarleton.