My dad suffered from an idiopathic autoimmune disorder that affected his heart by causing ventricular arrhythmias. Because his particular variant of disease was not clearly defined in the medical literature, it was very hard to find a practitioner outside of academic medicine that has able to address his chief complaints of syncope and chest discomfort. Moreover, because his symptoms overlapped with myocardial infarction, and his electrocardiogram (ECG) showed dangerous bigeminy, we quickly became familiar with the emergency departments of the local hospitals. More frustrating was the lack of answers following the many discharges. Many attempts were made to investigate the cause, and many solutions were tried — including immunoglobulins — all to no avail.
As I got to know my dad better, and I really became close to him through all of this nightmare, several factors emerged. He had unknown viral illness at around 6 years of age that was originally thought to be polio. He had recently developed neuromyopathies in the upper-extremities. Also, he had metabolic difficulties in tolerating the statin-class cholesterol medications.
Whether solely because of the stress of my dad’s failing health, or in combination with other underlying past psychological insults, my mother attempted suicide several years ago. The harder part — and there are many difficult aspects — is that while we saved her and was able to get her help, we were unable to identify similar issues with my uncle (my mother’s brother) who shot and killed himself in February 2014 only a week after his birthday. And so, I became increasingly aware of just how little we address mental health in this country. Even more striking, the NIH and NIMH are working to map the brain and better understand behavior and cognition — and how disfunction occurs. Why do some of us cope with stress by eating, while others drink, or become workaholics?
My research interests are in understanding how common exposures in peri-domestic and peri-urban space can lead to infectious diseases that are correlated to chronic diseases such as autoimmune disfunction and mental illness. The relationship between toxoplasmosis gondii and suicide was particularly striking to me. I do not think this parasite is a the exception, but rather exemplifies a change in the infectious disease paradigm from a determinant of acute illness to one of chronic disease. Perhaps more devastating is that the morbidity can be somewhat transparent - especially in mental illness — and the effect not seen until it is too late.
Dominick A Leone
About Dominick A Leone * Motivations for Research
About Dominick A Leone