Chagas – a Neglected Disease

Photo: Microfluidic cartridge

Microfluidic cartridge with integrated
reagents and pumps, developed
as part of the Fraunhofer ivD
platform; © Fraunhofer ENAS

Chagas disease is a deadly tropical illness. It is passed to humans by insects and contaminated blood transfusions, and can also be passed from mother to embryo. Around the world, almost 10 million people are infected with the disease – mostly in Central and South America and parts of the USA. Tourism and immigration, however, are also bringing the disease to Europe.

The disease is passed on by blood-sucking bugs of the Reduviidae family, whose bite contami-nates the wound and ultimately transmits the infection. The acute phase of the illness starts after four weeks and can last up to another four weeks. 30 – 40 percent of infected people have symptoms such as local redness, swelling around the wound, fever, and nausea. Treatment is only effective if started in this phase of the illness.

After a symptomless stage, which can last for years, the chronic, acute and frequently fatal phase of the illness begins. In 20 percent of cases, the heart and alimentary organs expand until they fail.

Scientists are concerned because there is still no inoculation. Current methods of treatment not only have serious side effects, they are also unaffordable for many patients.

Under the direction of Fraunhofer ENAS, a European-Brazilian consortium is developing an on-site test, similar to a laboratory analysis, that can detect the infection quickly and reliably.

Scientists from eight European and five Brazilian research institutions and companies are developing a compact, low-cost detection system that can find the pathogen at any location. Three partners of the Heterogeneous Technology Alliance HTA are among them: CEA Leti from France, the Fraunhofer Institute for Electronic Nanosystems ENAS from Germany, and Teknologian tutkimuskeskus VTT from Finland.

The pathogen is detected in, say, a blood sample by searching for both its own DNA and the immune response from the patient’s body. The test allows highly specific diagnosis in all stages of the infection. Including sample pretreatment, the entire test system is the size of a cellular phone.

MEDICA.de; Source: Fraunhofer Group of Microelectronics