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Chagas, Carlos Ribeiro Justiniano (1879–1934)

Chagas, Carlos Ribeiro Justiniano (1879–1934)

Carlos Ribeiro Justiniano Chagas (b. 9 July 1879; d. 8 November 1934), Brazilian medical scientist. Chagas is remembered for discovering a new human disease, Trypanosomiasis americana, commonly known as Chagas' disease, which to this day afflicts millions of people in South America.

Chagas was born in Minas Gerais and trained in medicine in Rio de Janeiro, where he obtained his medical degree in 1902. In 1907 he joined the staff of the Oswaldo Cruz Institute, which later sent him to Lassance, 300 miles from Rio, to organize an anti-malaria campaign. It was while he was in Lassance that Chagas took up the study of a biting insect commonly known as the barbeiro (a triatoma), which lived in the walls and thatched roofs of the local dwellings. Finding a trypanosome in the gut of the insect, he suspected that it might produce disease and that humans might be its natural host. Therefore, Chagas proceeded to test its pathogenic effects in animals. He went on to discover trypanosome in the heart and brain tissues of patients whose diverse clinical symptoms had escaped understanding until that time.

The announcement of a new human disease in 1909 initiated years of research into its insect vectors; the life cycle of the causative agent, the Trypanosoma cruzi (named after Oswaldo Cruz, Chagas's friend and director of the Oswaldo Cruz Institute); and its clinical symptoms. The disease has acute and chronic forms and causes cardiac, gastrointestinal, and neurological symptoms.

In 1917, Chagas took over the direction of the Oswaldo Cruz Institute; in 1919 he also became director of the federal public health program, where he oversaw the extension of public health campaigns into the rural areas of Brazil. Nevertheless, Chagas was primarily known as a medical scientist. His work on Trypanosomiasis americana gave him an international reputation in medicine; he received the Schaudinn Prize for protozoology in 1913 and several honorary degrees.

See alsoDiseases; Medicine: The Modern Era.


The Annals of the International Congress of Chagas' Disease, 5 vols. (1960), contains a complete bibliography of Chagas's writings; his career is described in Nancy Stepan, Beginnings of Brazilian Science: Oswaldo Cruz, Medical Research, and Policy, 1890–1920 (1976).

Additional Bibliography

Scliar, Moacyr. Oswaldo Cruz e Carlos Chagas: O nascimento de ciência no Brasil. Sâo Paulo: Odysseus, 2002.

                                   Nancy Leys Stepan

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