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Star Grant Update: Serological survey of Trypanosoma cruzi

STAR Grant Update Serological survey of Trypanosoma cruzi in raccoons from Tennessee PI: Alexa Rosypal, PhD Student researchers: Trynecia Smith and Pashaun Chisholm Student volunteer/mentee: Chanel Farmer Chagas’ disease is a life-threatening cardiac disease caused by infection with the insect-vectored parasite, Trypanosoma cruzi. The complex lifecycle of T. cruzi involves parasite transmission between infected insects and many mammalian species, including humans, domestic and wild animals. Infected raccoons are the most commonly infected animal in the United States and they have the potential to act as a reservoir of infection for humans. Canine immunochromatographic dipstick tests (ICT) are commercially available to test domestic dogs for the presence of antibodies to T. cruzi. A previous study indicated that canine ICT can also detect antibodies in raccoons. The purpose of this study was to determine the T. cruzi exposure level in raccoons from Tennessee using the canine ICT. The prevalence of T. cruzi in serum from 31 raccoons (Procyon lotor) originating in Tennessee was examined with the rapid ICT. Raccoon samples were provided by Dr. Rick Gerhold at the University of Tennessee. Antibodies to T. cruzi were detected in 7 of 31 (22.6%) of the raccoons from Tennessee. Our results indicate that raccoons are exposed to T. cruzi in Tennessee. Raccoon serum samples from the present study are currently being tested with the indirect immunofluorescent antibody tests to confirm T. cruzi results using the ICT. If validated, these rapid ICT assays could be a useful serological screening tool that could be used as an alternative to traditional antibody tests. The benchtop laboratory research for the project has been completed using the canine ICT (Figure 1). Trynecia Smith (junior Biology major) had used the ICT assay in a previous research project so she was familiar with the procedure. She served as a peer mentor to Pashaun Chisholm (senior Biology major) and helped to train her in the laboratory technique. The raccoon samples used in this study will be tested by the traditional T. cruzi antibody test used by the CDC in the laboratory of Dr. Chris Hall at Berry College. Results from the two antibody tests will be compared to validate if the canine ICT can be used reliable to detect antibodies in raccoons. Pashaun is using this project as the basis of her Senior Investigative Paper. Chanel Farmer (freshman Biology major) is an ASPIRE scholar who was seeking exposure to a research environment. ASPIRE scholars are required to engage in a peer mentoring experience. Trynecia, who is also an ASPIRE scholar, served as a mentor to Chanel in this capacity. We are currently preparing a poster based on results from this study. The poster will be shared at the STAR Research Day. Pashaun would also like to present the work at a conference in Fall 2015.

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