Perspectives

Combating Chagas Disease A Lifelong Passion For Dr. Mario Grijalva


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Dr. Mario Grijalva is a molecular cell biologist who has focused his career on helping to eradicate Chagas disease – especially in South America.

This bug, the Trypanosoma Cruzi parasite, exists only within certain parts of Latin America, and has caused havoc in most countries in the region. The parasites causing Chagas can be transmitted by certain insect bites. The parasites also can be transferred congenitally and through blood transfusions. Most of the people infected do not know of the existence of the parasite for 5 to 20 years. Then they develop defective heart symptoms that can often prove fatal.

Professor Mario Grijalva, director of the Tropical Disease Institute at Ohio University, he has spent his lifetime career researching and finding ways to curb the disease.

Ecuador, his native land, is a country that exists on the equator on the South American continent. As the name suggests, it is a country straddling the equator on South America’s West Coast. It is a tropical country with a diverse landscape that covers all the way from the Amazon jungle to the Andean Highlands. And at the Andean Foothills, is Quito the capital which was previously a Spanish Colonial Center in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

But out here, in this tropical country, a disease has been ravaging and ending the lives of many Ecuadorians prematurely. This again, is where Professor Mario Grijalva comes into play. You see he came to Ohio as a graduate student and after he graduated… stayed on and spearheaded the Institute for Tropical Medicine at the state’s oldest university, Ohio University. The way he puts it, Chagas disease has shaped his professional career.

All of the world, malaria is the most known tropical mosquito-borne disease. But Chagas disease is less known because it’s limited to certain parts of the world. Professor Grijalva, says Trypanosoma Cruzi is this little parasite that reproduces itself inside human or animal cells and hangs around for a very long time. If not treated, at its worst, it causes an inflammation of the heart. Basically, that means the heart will start growing and that is the beginning of real trouble.

Dr. Grijalva has dedicated his research to this disease and has taken over 600 American college students to Ecuador to work with Ecuadorian students and faculty in a new 100,000 square foot research facility and laboratory in Quito, Dr. Grijalva’s hometown. He also has developed a partnership between Ohio University and the Catholic University of Ecuador to fight the disease.

The disease generally targets the underserved citizens who do not have regular access to health care.
Dr. Grijalva is not only working on the science of Chagas but he is also trying to raise awareness of this devastating disease. To date, some 50 scientific papers have been published about Chagas. This has raised the knowledge base significantly.