HOUSTON – (May 9, 2012) – Research efforts towards the development of a therapeutic vaccine for Chagas disease just got a significant boost through a new agreement between Baylor College of Medicine and SouthWest Electronic Energy Medical Research Institute.

The new joint research program allots $250,000 per year for two years to support ongoing efforts at BCM in the research and development of a vaccine for Chagas disease, a tropical disease spread by insects that is an important cause of heart disease in South and Central America. This therapeutic vaccine would work to treat individuals already affected by this disease, which is common in those living in poverty.

“Chagas disease is one of the most devastating diseases of poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean region, including new foci in the Amazon Region,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the newly established Baylor College of Medicine National School of Tropical Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital Endowed Chair of Tropical Pediatrics. “Chagas disease has also emerged in Texas and elsewhere in the U.S. There is an urgent need to develop new therapeutics for this infection, including a therapeutic vaccine.”

Hotez and Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi, associate dean of BCM’s National School of Tropical Medicine, will serve as directors for the Medical Research Institute, and research will be conducted at the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development. Hotez also serves as the president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute.

SouthWest Electronic Energy recently established its Medical Research Institute under the leadership of company chairman and CEO Len Benckenstein. The goal of the Medical Research Institute is to collaborate directly in the active conduct of medical research with the most talented and productive medical researchers available.

“I am encouraged and pleased with the doctors involved in the newly established National School of Tropical Medicine,” said Benckenstein. “Drs. Hotez and Bottazzi’s research efforts toward neglected tropical diseases are very exciting. Their passion for developing a therapeutic vaccine for Chagas disease is evident. An affiliate of SouthWest Electronic Energy is drilling water wells to provide clean drinking water for the poor in the Amazon Basin. This dovetails nicely with a therapeutic vaccine for Chagas that is prevalent in the Basin. We are delighted that SouthWest Electronic Energy Medical Research Institute will be part of such research and discovery that helps the poor.”

Hotez, a world-renowned expert in neglected tropical diseases, came to BCM last year to establish the National School of Tropical Medicine, with a goal of training health care professionals to understand and treat the world’s most pressing neglected tropical diseases that affect the world’s poor. The School will begin training the first group of health care professionals this June through a Diploma in Tropical Medicine program.

“One of the sad things we’ve found is that many patients with tropical diseases here in the United States and elsewhere go undiagnosed and untreated because the health care providers are not trained to think about these diseases,” said Hotez. “We want to provide comprehensive training for these tropical diseases that would augment training for health care providers here and give them the tools they need to go overseas and work in low and middle income countries to provide treatment.”

Dipali Pathak
[email protected]