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Max's Blog

The Vida Pharmacal blog is a tribute to Max, our first Chagas patient and our inspiration to identify and treat as many Chagas patients—canine and human—as possible. An unwanted shelter dog, his short life parallels the lives of many Chagas patients around the world, who are outcasts because of the disease.
Thank you, Max. Millions of dogs and people will have a new lease on life because of yours.

In vitro Human Heart Cells Improve Drug Testing

Nobody—canine or human—was harmed to make this video! In this clip, you’ll see beating human heart cells that were cultured from umbilical cord embryonic stem cells. Grown in a lab dish, they can divide to produce more of themselves, or they can mature into nerves, insulin-producing cells, and even form tiny clusters of early heart cells that beat a steady rhythm. The technique was developed at Stanford University and allows researchers to identify genetic mutations, test drugs, and advance understanding of cardiac disease.

Part of our scientific testing methodology is to explore the use of our formula and its effect on trypanosomiasis in human cardiac stem cells, in collaboration with Cardiovascular Medicine at Stanford. We infected cells with Chagas disease and added Vidarone to track efficacy against T. cruzi. We also tested our formula against benznidazole, a drug approved by the FDA on August 29, 2017, for use in children ages 2 to 12 years old with Chagas disease. In our studies, our formula cleared the parasite more than 95% of the time after just two days of treatment; benznidazole worked 58% of the time and only in the acute phase of Chagas disease. Our study is here. Props to David A. Stevens, MD, Professor (Emeritus) of Medicine, Stanford University Medical School and Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and Hospital Epidemiologist, Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, Stanford and San Jose, California. Dr. Stevens’ assistance and expertise during the testing was invaluable.

Big dogs, even bigger hearts

Aspen (above left) and Storm (above right) faced close calls with Chagas disease. Their dam, Summer (above middle) whelped seven strong, healthy puppies on Easter Sunday 2017: Storm, Rain, Cassie, Rhythm, Cairo, Zoe, and Aspen. The breeding had been meticulously researched and planned, everything went well, and there was no indication that anything was wrong.

Twelve weeks later, Cassie threw up and was unusually quiet. Thinking she had an impaction, Lori took her to the vet. X-rays were negative but her heart rate had skyrocketed to over 300 beats per minute. After medication and observation, they transferred Cassie to an emergency clinic. She made it through the night but took a turn for the worst the next day and passed away. When Lori got home that night, another puppy, Rhythm, was limping with no visible sign of a wound. Lori kept an eye on her. The next day she received a phone call from a family that had adopted Rain—he had passed away suddenly the night before. On Monday, Lori took Summer and the four remaining puppies for Chagas testing. Rhythm’s heart rate was escalated, and in the meantime, necropsy results showed that the first puppy had died from Chagas. Multiple local veterinarians began looking online to find a treatment to no avail. Meanwhile, Rhythm became worse and Zoe’s heart rate suddenly went up. The situation looked hopeless. Within several days, test results for all of the dogs came back positive for Chagas and Zoe passed away. One local vet suggested that Lori contact Dr. Madigan. He immediately started Summer, Storm, Aspen, and Rhythm on medication, but for Rhythm, the disease had done too much damage.

Today, Summer, Storm, and Aspen are completing treatment. All three dogs are energetic and happy to play outdoors—or comandeer the living room sofa for a nap. Storm likes to play keep-away with his favorite rock, Aspen stalks and ambushes him, and Summer joins in for a rumble. Thanks to Vida Pharmacal, these dogs have long, happy lives ahead of them, and they have alerted many other breeders to the presence of Chagas disease so that other dogs might also be saved. Many thanks to Lori, her husband Tom, and the dogs’ co-breeder.

The perfect dog (but don’t tell him that)

“He was the last puppy left in the litter and we don’t know why,” said Ann. “He’s just the perfect dog. But don’t tell him I said that.” Gorgeous, golden, and gregarious, Remy is now 12 and a little gray in the muzzle. But, true retriever that he is, he makes his daily rounds “retrieving” shoes out of the closet and carrying them carefully in his mouth before dropping them in various places around the house. He’s never chewed a single one.

In October, 2016, however, Remy was panting constantly and his walks were becoming more laborious. After a visit to Dr. Madigan and extensive testing, he was diagnosed with Chagas. They began treatment immediately, and one year later, Remy’s blood tests came back free from all indications of the disease.

“We hadn’t ever heard of Chagas before,” said Ann, “but we can testify to the success of the treatment protocol. Remy came through in great shape and we’re so glad to still have him with us.”

Doing the dinner dance

Alsace and her younger sister Harlan love dinner. Turn down food? Unthinkable. Every evening the two dogs wag, wiggle, and throw in a few shimmies while Janelle and Kent prepare their bowls. Then it’s a sashay and race to the back yard for the grand finale. In late 2016, the dinner dance was in full swing when suddenly, Alsace collapsed to the ground.

Kent held her head up and blew in her mouth for what seemed like ages before Alsace opened her eyes and got up, dazed. As they rushed her to the emergency clinic, her heart was racing. The clinic ran numerous tests and placed her on three medications to reverse the arrhythmia. Thinking that Alsace had heart disease and unable to pinpoint a cause, the emergency clinic decided to test her for several possible conditions, including Chagas disease, and recommended that Kent and Janelle take Alsace to a cardiologist. After calling canine cardiologists in Austin, at Texas A&M University, and in Houston, they were able to book an appointment with a veterinary cardiologist in Houston the following week. In Houston, the clinic monitored Alsace’s heart for 24 hours but results were inconclusive. The next day, Janelle and Kent received news that the Chagas test results were positive.

“We immediately got online and started reading everything we could about Chagas,” said Janelle. “What we found was discouraging, because there was basically no hope for a dog with Chagas. I inquired about clinical trials, with no luck. We would have traveled anywhere out of the country for treatment. We even considered going to Venezuela where Chagas is common, but that was impossible because of the political situation.”

In the meantime, Austin Heart Vet, a veterinary cardiology clinic, called Janelle to say that they now had an opening. The Austin clinic had worked with Dr. Madigan and knew of his work with Chagas disease, and they suggested that Janelle contact the Animal Hospital of Smithson Valley. They were able to make an appointment right away and Dr. Madigan began treating Alsace immediately. In just three months, her tests came back negative for Chagas. They continued treatment and after six month, nine months, and one year, all tests were negative and she was cured.

Since treatment, Alsace is back to hiking, going on jogs, swimming in the pool, and doing the dinner dance. Janelle contacted all of the veterinarians who had seen Alsace to let them know about her treatment process. They’ve had pest control treatments on their property to help prevent kissing bugs from proliferating, and they’ve urged told friends and neighbors to have their dogs tested for Chagas.

“We feel so blessed that Austin Heart Vet suggested Dr. Madigan,” said Janelle. “Now every time we take the dogs in for vaccinations, we have both tested for Chagas. It’s our new standard procedure.”