The leaf-like patches of green gathering inside these cells (their nuclei stained blue) are in fact fluorescently-highlighted Trypanosoma cruzi, a parasite that causes Chagas disease. This potentially deadly condition can cause chronic cardiac and neurological problems, and currently affects over eight million people, mostly in Latin America but increasingly worldwide. As current treatments for Chagas disease can sometimes fail, scientists are working on a vaccine that uses a live, but harmless, virus as a courier. A form of adenovirus that’s been engineered to contain a T. cruzi antigen – one of the parasite’s outer coat proteins – is injected. Although the virus does no damage, the immune system will consider it an invader and develop an antibody that will mark T. cruzi for destruction when it enters the body during a real infection. This healer in disguise could help us nip a global disease outbreak in the bud.
Written by Esther Redhouse White
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