The Maroon

Scientists work to fight Chagas disease

Dr.+Dorn+and+2017+biology+alum+Lindsey+Mixer+hold+samples+of+insects.+Dr.+Dorn%27s+research+towards+stopping+the+spread+of+Changas+across+Central+America+is+trying+to+globalize+awareness+of+the+disease.+Photo+credit%3A+Cristian+Orellana
Dr. Dorn and 2017 biology alum Lindsey Mixer hold samples of insects. Dr. Dorn's research towards stopping the spread of Changas across Central America is trying to globalize awareness of the disease. Photo credit: Cristian Orellana

Dr. Dorn and 2017 biology alum Lindsey Mixer hold samples of insects. Dr. Dorn's research towards stopping the spread of Changas across Central America is trying to globalize awareness of the disease. Photo credit: Cristian Orellana

Dr. Dorn and 2017 biology alum Lindsey Mixer hold samples of insects. Dr. Dorn's research towards stopping the spread of Changas across Central America is trying to globalize awareness of the disease. Photo credit: Cristian Orellana

Catie Sanders

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Through emails and video calls, a team spread across the globe is working passionately to end the transmission of a life-threatening disease.

Patricia Dorn, professor of biological sciences at Loyola, has dedicated her time and research to ending the transmission of Chagas. A parasitic disease, Chagas is the leading cause of heart disease in Central America.

Nicknamed “kissing bugs,” insects infected with the parasite spread Chagas to humans with their bite. The kissing bugs commonly live under mattresses and in the dirt of floors in houses, putting many at risk of contracting Chagas.

The highest concentration of Chagas in Central America lies in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. However, it can also be found in Mexico and the United States, with Bisbee, Arizona having the highest density of kissing bugs. The issue of Chagas transmission is global and therefore requires a global approach for its study to be effective.

Dorn has brought multiple perspectives to her research on this widespread issue. Over the span of her research, she has formed an international Chagas fighting team. Dorn has colleagues in Brazil, the U.S. and Guatemala, along with their database manager, a Loyola Alum who lives Japan.

In the beginning, it was not an easy feat to start this global discussion of Chagas. Dorn shared that her first attempt at reaching out started by contacting the University of Guatemala. There was no response for over two years, until one day when she received a fax from Carlotta Monroy.

A medical entomologist and the first woman ever to win the national science award in Guatemala, Monroy has since worked by Dorn’s side to end Chagas transmission. Dorn largely attributes success in this field to her collaborative effort with scientists of different disciplines, often working with ministry of health technicians, universities and community members of affected areas.

The team communicates about their mission very efficiently thanks to the advantages of modern technology. They can share ideas through video calls or emails, and work together in real time through Dropbox. Dorn who has easy access to a library, can send the team articles she finds helpful.

The makeup of Dorn’s team proves how collaboration can have a larger impact on the betterment of our increasingly global society. Finding solutions to global issues, such as Chagas, requires that everyone’s values be taken into consideration.

Where Dorn is mainly concerned with tracking the kissing bugs, Monroy reminds the team to focus on how each community is impacted by Chagas.

“Carlotta always pulls us back to what’s going to help the people,” Dorn said of her colleague.

The only solution proven to be effective in ending Chagas transmission is to improve housing, which prevents kissing bugs from living among people.

A large part of the team’s work has been raising awareness of the disease and working with community members to improve housing to prevent insects from infesting homes. The team has created a website, along with pamphlets and step-by-step videos. These show people how they can take steps to bug-proof houses by sealing cracks in the walls and cementing floors.

Dorn is impressed by Monroy’s ability to work within the culture and convince people to act.

“Science is global. Especially when working on a disease that’s so devastating for Central America. You need a Central American perspective and expertise and on-the-ground understanding to propose successful solutions,” she said.

This team firmly believes that science is not about self-improvement. They believe it is about working towards a common goal to help improve the quality of human life and gain knowledge about the world around us.

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2 Comments

2 Responses to “Scientists work to fight Chagas disease”

  1. Mark Lymer on February 6th, 2018 3:55 pm

    I lived in Bisbee for the year 2011. I moved to Tempe in 2012 and now Phoenix. I was donating blood to United Way in 2013. They denied my blood, it tested positive for Chagas. I recently had blood tests and the % of the infection the doctor said was very low, or minute. I may have been ‘bit’ during sleep, i don’t remember any swelling or outward redspots anywhere on my lips or face. Also think I may have carried the bug into the house from yard work or hiking in the area. My 65th birthday was this January. I feel ok, well, maybe a little too much chocolate during the holidays. Good luck with your research. Would be nice to find a cure too!

    [Reply]

  2. Diane on February 6th, 2018 11:22 pm

    Horrible disease! Glad to hear headway is being made to combat it. A co-worker’s daughter, only 30 years old and the picture of perfect health, took a cruise to Mexico. After returning to the states, she was diagnosed as having the “kissing bug” disease. This young, healthy lady went into congestive heart failure. I agree it so important to have worldwide collaboration to defeat this parasitic enemy. Thanks to Dr Dorn and Dr Monroy for their dedication.

    [Reply]

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