Exploit in vivo imaging technology to study disease pathogenesis and assess drug effectiveness.
Chagas disease was named after the Brazilian physician Carlos Chagas discovered the disease in 1909. It is caused by the insect-transmitted protozoan Trypanosoma cruzi and is the most important parasitic infection in Latin America, affecting 5–8 million people. It is also becoming a global problem, with increasing numbers of symptomatic cases in non-endemic areas, including the USA and Europe. The initial acute stage of Chagas disease is usually relatively mild, although in children it can be severe, and sometimes fatal. With the development of a cellular immune response, parasitemia is suppressed, but sterile immunity is not achieved. Initially, the chronic infection phase is asymptomatic, but ~30% of patients eventually develop pathology, often decades later. Cardiomyopathy occurs in the majority of these individuals, whilst a minority suffer digestive tract megasyndromes. The nitroheterocyclic compounds benznidazole and nifurtimox are the front-line Chagas disease drugs. Unfortunately, they display a range of toxic side-effects, which can impact negatively on patient compliance. Treatment failures are frequent and new drugs are urgently required.