Academic Health Center
Stay Connected

U of M and Brazilian researchers partner to fight infectious disease

Photo: Marna Ericson

Tissue staining of Bartonella in skin

It’s difficult to treat a disease caused by something you don’t know is there.

That’s why Marna Ericson, Ph.D. in the Department of Dermatology and Center for Drug Design at the University of Minnesota’s Medical School and Paulo Velho, M.D., Ph.D., a researcher from the University of Campinas (UNICAMP) in Campinas, Brazil are combining experience and expertise internationally to learn more about the hard-to-detect bacteria Bartonella.

Ericson and Velho are part of a joint U.S.-Brazil March government initiative encouraging science and technology collaboration between the U.S. and Brazil.

Not only did the pair recently participate in a round table discussion at the U.S. Department of State on recruiting, retaining and advancing women in science, but they also just received a three-year grant to study Bartonella from Brazilian government program Science Without Borders, alongside U of M Department of Medicine Professor Kalpna Gupta and two UNICAMP researchers.

“Bartonella may be causing sickness and we don’t know it, because there’s no good way to test for it,” said Ericson. “Even the best state-of-the-art tests are inadequate.”

Bartonella lives inside red blood cells and is responsible for cat scratch disease; an infection transmitted by – you guessed it – cats (although ticks, flies, fleas and other blood-transmitters can carry it, too). This stealthy bacterium is also responsible for an unknown number of other health problems including skin lesions, liver infections and brain dysfunction.

International collaboration between Brazil and U of M researchers is vital to successful research on Bartonella. Velho’s yearlong appointment at the U allows both U of M researchers and Velho to share their unique experiences and research with the bacteria originally discovered in South America.

“We are a good example of collaborative work,” Velho said, adding that Ericson and himself are hoping to make it easier for others to participate in a university exchange like their own.

If Ericson and Velho succeed in developing a better way to detect Bartonella, their international collaboration will result in cost savings stemming from improper disease diagnoses and will set the scene for developing treatments that have the potential to improve lives and help cure Bartonella-related disease.

  1. February 14, 2013 12:04 am | K. Meyer Says:

    It sounds like this research may be covering ground already covered by Dr. Edward Breitschwerdt and investigators at NC State.

  2. February 14, 2013 9:04 am | Justin Paquette Says:

    Actually K, the work is different and many academic institutions are on a path to lead to better detection and treatment of bartonella. It’s our understanding researchers at NC State have examined the types of infection the bacteria is responsible for and have helped establish the range of species susceptible to infection. They’ve also established culture systems and growth mediums that allow the bacteria to replicate to levels where current tests can detect its presence in humans. U of M researchers want to make detection easier and develop new screening tests to replace current, inadequate screening tools. There perhaps may be many researchers working towards this goal, but as yet, there isn’t a reliable tool developed. That’s our goal. – Justin, from the Health Talk Team

  3. March 5, 2013 1:26 am | Kim Bush Says:

    I believe I have this disease. How can I stay abreast of this research? Thank you very much!

  4. March 5, 2013 8:18 am | Justin Paquette Says:

    Kim, absolutely. Check back with Health Talk from time to time, I’m sure we’ll write about it again. In the meantime, talk with your physician about this condition to ensure you’re getting the best care possible.

  5. September 17, 2014 7:16 am | Karen Says:

    My now 15 year old son has bartonella (positive FISH in 2012 from Igenex Lab) and a lot of straie on his back that has gotten worse with antibiotic treatment. Any idea what creates these marks, what is in them and whether they will ever really go away? The doctor can not really give us much of an answer. Thank you.

    • September 17, 2014 12:24 pm | Miranda Taylor Says:

      Hi Karen,

      According to U of M Dept. of Dermatology assistant professor Marna Erickson, Ph.D., the stria in Bartonella bacteremic patients are very poorly understood, but a study of these striae is starting. Researchers hypothesize that collagen formation in the skin is disrupted. Some patients report persistence while some report the striae disappear but they may re-appear. You can visit the GALAXYDX.COM website for further information on this study.

Join The Conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *