February 15, 2013

Cure in sight for kissing bug’s bite

It’s possible to cure Chagas disease – a deadly tropical infection transmitted by “kissing bugs” – in a mouse model.

Chagas disease, a deadly tropical infection caused by the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi and transmitted by biting insects called “kissing bugs,” has begun to spread around the world. Yet current treatment is toxic and limited to the acute stage.


In The Journal of Infectious Diseases, Galina Lepesheva, Ph.D., research associate professor of Biochemistry, and her colleagues at Vanderbilt University and Meharry Medical College report curing both the acute and chronic forms of the infection in mice with a small molecule, VNI.

VNI specifically inhibits a T. cruzi enzyme (CYP51) involved in the synthesis of sterols, lipid molecules essential for cell membrane function and integrity. In mouse models of Chagas disease, VNI achieved cures with 100 percent survival and without toxic side effects.

About 8 million people have been infected by T. cruzi, mostly in Latin America, but kissing bugs have been found across the southern United States. The finding in mice opens new opportunities for potentially curative treatment, the researchers concluded.

The research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (GM067871, GM084333, AI080580) and by a pilot project grant from the Vanderbilt Institute of Chemical Biology.