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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.

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.”

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 Vidarone 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 Vidarone 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, Vidarone 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.