Inaction has jeopardized the health and economic well-being of millions

WASHINGTON, D.C. – October 31, 2013 – A leading cause of heart disease remains overlooked in North America’s most impoverished communities, researchers said today in an editorial published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. Chagas disease has rendered a heavy health and economic toll, yet insufficient political and medical support for gathering specific data, providing diagnosis and treatment, and developing new tools has impeded much-needed breakthroughs.

“We have already identified critical steps to save lives and make breakthroughs in Chagas disease control in North America,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, the editorial’s lead author, director of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. “This is an achievable public health goal that will also reduce the disease’s detrimental economic burden. Greater medical awareness, scientific cooperation between key countries, and public-private partnerships will help us beat this scourge.”

Chagas disease is a parasitic infection most commonly transmitted through blood-feeding triatomine bugs, but it can also be spread through pregnancy, blood transfusion, and contaminated food or drink.  Up to 30% of infections result in debilitating and life-threatening heart disease and severe intestinal and liver complications. People living in extremely impoverished communities are most vulnerable because of poor-quality housing and inadequate access to health care, education and vector control.

Chagas disease infects an estimated 10 million people worldwide; however, much less is known about the true disease burden in North America. According to some preliminary estimates, Mexico ranks third, and the United States seventh, in terms of the number of infected individuals with Chagas disease in the Western Hemisphere, where 99% of the cases occur.

It is also estimated that 40,000 pregnant North American women may be infected with T. cruzi at any given time, resulting in 2,000 congenital cases through mother-to-child transmission.

A lack of facilities offering diagnosis and treatment of Chagas disease has prevented at-risk and infected people from receiving the critical and often life-saving attention they need. While two drug treatments currently exist, they cause undesirable adverse effects, are unsafe for pregnant women and are not approved for use in the United States.

“The research community is pushing science as hard as possible to ensure we get new treatments to people living with Chagas disease, but we need to ensure that governments prioritize the disease,” said Dr. Bernard Pecoul, a co-author of the editorial and Executive Director of the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi). “It is urgent to diagnose and treat patients with what we have available today, until research and development efforts deliver true breakthroughs for the millions in need.” DNDi has produced a pediatric dosage form of benznidazole for children with Chagas disease, and is currently developing new drug candidates for a truly novel, safe, effective and affordable treatment for all patients.

The Sabin Vaccine Institute’s Product Development Partnership (Sabin PDP), in partnership with Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital and with support from the Slim Initiative for the Development of Neglected Tropical Diseases and from the Southwest Electronic Energy Medical Research, has initiated development for a new therapeutic vaccine.

In addition to Dr. Hotez and Dr. Pecoul, the paper’s authors include Eric Dumonteil, Autonomous University of Yucatan (UADY); Miguel Betancourt Cravioto, Carlos Slim Health Institute; Maria Elena Bottazzi, National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development; Roberto Tapia-Conyer, Carlos Slim Health Institute; Sheba Meymandi, Olive View-UCLA Medical Center; Unni Karunakara, Medecins Sans Frontiers/Doctors Without Borders; Isabela Ribeiro, DNDi; and Rachel M. Cohen, DNDi.

The full editorial, “An Unfolding Tragedy of Chagas Disease in North America,” can be found here.

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About The Sabin Vaccine Institute

The Sabin Vaccine Institute (Sabin) is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization of scientists, researchers and advocates dedicated to reducing needless human suffering from vaccine-preventable and neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Since its founding in 1993 in honor of Dr. Albert B. Sabin, the developer of the oral polio vaccine, Sabin has been at the forefront of global efforts to eliminate, prevent and cure infectious and neglected tropical diseases.

Sabin develops new vaccines, advocates for increased use of existing vaccines and promotes expanded access to affordable medical treatments in collaboration with governments, academic institutions, scientists, medical professionals and other non-profit organizations. For more information please visit www.sabin.org.

About The Sabin Vaccine Institute Product Development Partnership

The Sabin Vaccine Institute Product Development Partnership (Sabin PDP) focuses on creating safe, effective and low-cost vaccines to prevent human suffering from infectious and neglected tropical diseases that infect more than 1 billion people worldwide. The Sabin PDP collaborates with private, academic and public institutions in low- and middle-income countries, Australia, the United States and Europe, for preclinical development, vaccine manufacturing and clinical testing. A complete overview of ongoing projects and partners is available at www.sabin.org/pdp.

About the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine

The National School of Tropical Medicine (NSTM) at Baylor College of Medicine is committed to addressing the world's most pressing tropical disease issues. The school applies strong traditions in basic, translational and applied biotechnology research brought by the BCM faculty and staff with the newly affiliated Sabin PDP. The NSTM works in partnership with Texas Children's Hospital, home of the Sabin Vaccine Institute & Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development. For more information please visit http://www.bcm.edu/tropicalmedicine/.

About Texas Children’s Hospital

Texas Children’s Hospital, a not-for-profit organization, is committed to creating a community of healthy children through excellence in patient care, education and research. Consistently ranked among the top children’s hospitals in the nation, Texas Children’s has recognized Centers of Excellence in multiple pediatric subspecialties including the Cancer and Heart Centers, and operates the largest primary pediatric care network in the country. Texas Children's has completed a $1.5 billion expansion, which includes the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute; Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women, a comprehensive obstetrics/gynecology facility focusing on high-risk births; and Texas Children’s Hospital West Campus, a community hospital in suburban West Houston.  For more information on Texas Children's, go to http://www.texaschildrens.org. Get the latest news from Texas Children’s by visiting the online newsroom and on Twitter at twitter.com/texaschildrens.

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