Developing Genomic Tools for Combating Chagas Disease
The goal of the project is to develop diagnostic DNA tools to identify and eradicate kissing bug populations harboring Chagas disease. Chagas is the third most common parasitic infection in the world, afflicting ~7.5 million people world-wide. The disease is becoming increasingly prevalent in the southern U.S. (300,000 people infected, costing ~$1 billion annually), recently reaching Indiana. The development of genomic tools to combat Chagas represents a critical effort to get in front of what a serious public health problem on the horizon in the USA that already afflicts millions of people globally.
Chagas is caused by a protozoan parasite, Trypanosoma cruzi, potentially vectored by 11 different species of bloodsucking “kissing bugs” in the USA. One major issue facing control efforts is that the trypanosome transmitted by kissing bugs that causes Chagas in humans, T. cruzi, looks identical to T. rangeli, that does not cause disease. Also, the 11 kissing bug species have immature life stages, the principal form collected in surveys, that are indistinguishable. These issues will be addressed by developing genomic tools to genetically distinguish the trypanosomes T. cruzi and T. rangeli, as well as the kissing bug species present in the USA by DNA sequencing specimens from the USA determined to harbor trypanosomes. Students will work with Drs. Feder, McDowell, and Hood in partnership with public health and military agencies to apply the Chagas diagnostics to future surveys to identify infected-kissing bug populations of critical importance for targeted control.
Genetics and Genomics
One way to study certain diseases is through genetics - the study of heredity and the variation of individual inherited genes in an organism. At the EIGH, this means studying how organisms can inherit and spread certain diseases. Additionally, by analyzing the entire structure, function, and evolution of an organism's genes, researchers may identify ways to prevent a disease from genetically passing disease traits.
Vector-borne disease research is a historic strength of the EIGH. Our researchers study multiple parts of the vector-borne disease lifecycle, such as how the parasites, viruses, and bacteria cause these kinds of diseases, how the vectors spread these diseases, and how to improve prevention methods in tropical and subtropical areas, which have the highest burden of vector-borne illnesses.