You may have heard a buzz of news recently about the spread of the so-called "kissing bug" throughout the United States. Bloodsuckers that prefer to bite sleeping people around the mouth and eyes, the insect is undeniably ugly (you can thank me later for not sharing a picture -- click here if you'd like to take a gander). But more importantly, they can spread a parasite to humans that
People infected with the
Now cardiologist and stem cell researcher Joseph Wu, MD,
As Wu, who directs the Stanford Cardiovascular Institute, explained in an email to me:
Chagasdisease presents as an acute phase that is generally asymptomatic, followed by a lifelong chronic phase affecting the heart muscle. Researchers have tried to use rodents to study the effect on the heart by Chagas disease, but fundamental differences between mice and humans make this approach less than optimal. We thought we could learn valuable insights by using human induced pluripotent cell -derived cardiomyocytes to directly study how infection with T. cruziaffects the function of these cells in a laboratory setting.
The results were illuminating. The researchers found that not only could human heart muscle cells become infected with T. cruzi, but that the infection caused changes in how rapidly the cells beat and how well they synchronized their beating with their neighbors. They also displayed other physiological changes consistent with the negative clinical outcomes seen in people with Chagas disease.
As Wu explained:
We were really intrigued by how closely our model of T.
infection mirrors some aspects of the symptoms observed in patients with Chagas disease. Our study shows that these lab-grown human heart muscle cells are a good model for studying the cardiac dysfunction seen in chronically infected people and exploring new treatment strategies. For example, our study identified a list of relevant genes that might play a role in the damage caused by Chagas disease, which then could be potential targets for pharmacological intervention. cruzi
Photo by Angela