UTMB collaborates with U.S. Navy and Peruvian universities to study infectious diseases
GALVESTON, Texas — Diseases once found in isolated areas are now appearing at our hospitals in Texas. To better understand infections that might spread to the United States, University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston is collaborating with the U.S. Navy and the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia at Lima, Peru, to study infectious diseases in Cusco, Peru.
“The list of diseases showing up in U.S. hospitals is long,” said Dr. Clinton White, director of the Infectious Diseases Division at UTMB.
“I have published data on over 250 cases, seen in Houston alone. Tuberculosis in the U.S. is mainly a disease of immigrants. Malaria cases are increasing each year and leishmaniasis is diagnosed occasionally.”
As the home of the former Inca Empire and the closest city to Machu Picchu, Cusco has been declared a World Heritage Site and is a major hub for tourism. With millions of visitors each year, Cusco is an ideal location to study diseases affecting travelers.
“We have a joint research project with the Navy, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, to study the causes and severity of travelers’ diarrhea,” said Dr. Miguel Cabada, director of the research center and UTMB adjunct professor of infectious diseases.
Travelers’ diarrhea can cause abdominal pain, cramping and dehydration, which can last for more than a week. For soldiers deployed for combat, the illness can be debilitating.
The research center’s studies have helped identify the various causes of travelers’ diarrhea and will soon begin examining interventions to help prevent the illness.
The center is also concentrating on leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease that causes a disfiguring skin ailment, which can destroy the nose and throat. While unusual in the United States, nearly 1,400 military personnel who served in Iraq and Afghanistan were infected with the disease.
A grant from the National Institutes of Health is supporting studies of fasciolasis, a parasite that affects the liver. The disease can cause anemia and malnutrition in children.
“Through our studies, we brought diagnostics to hundreds of children, and we are working on testing new treatments,” said Cabada. Since the research center opened in 2012, more than 80 children have been treated for fasciola.
In addition, the research center trains medical students on infectious diseases. More than a dozen medical students have trained at the research center, including a Navy Fulbright Scholar, trainees from UTMB, UPCH and Rice University.