True to our mission statement, Lyme Research Alliance promotes promising, innovative, cutting-edge research for the eradication of tick-borne illnesses. We are proud to showcase current research projects that we are funding wholly or in part:
It Starts with Prevention
Lyme Research Alliance awarded a grant to Dr. Robert E. Thach, Professor of Biology at Washington University in St. Louis for his work on vertebrate reservoirs for tick-borne diseases in the central United States. According to Dr. Thach, "Future development and implementation of strategies to control tick-borne diseases depend on understanding how these disease-producing organisms that ticks transmit are maintained in the environment." Through novel analysis of nymphal tick gut blood, sources of the tick's previous blood meals can be identified. In so doing, the grey squirrel was identified as a significant reservoir for the lonestar tick, Amblyomma americanum, carrying both Borrelia burgdorferi and Ehrlichia chafeensis. “Discovering the carriers of the infected ticks will eventually help design methods to reduce human exposure to them and consequently, tick- borne diseases." Dr. Thach has focused his work on the tick-borne disease Ehrlichiosis, a growing problem in the Midwest.
Better Diagnostic Tests
The Lyme and Tick-Borne Research Center at Columbia University has been particularly interested in identifying better diagnostic tests and better treatments for people with chronic persistent symptoms. Dr. Brian Fallon, director of the Center and Associate Professor at Columbia University, cites one of the Center projects, which involved evaluating the sensitivity and specificity of the C6 assay for Lyme disease. This community screening study took place in the spring/summer of 2009 and included those with typical and atypical cases of Lyme disease. The results of this study may help to enhance the likelihood that those with Lyme disease are detected and treated more quickly. For more information about the Center, see www.columbia-lyme.org.
Dr. Benjamin J. Luft, the Edmond Pellegrino Professor of Medicine at the State University of New York (SUNY), Stony Brook, on a quest to find better antibiotic therapies for Lyme disease and with the knowledge that microbes possess something known as efflux pumps in their cell membranes to help eliminate antibiotics and other toxins from inside the cell, has studied the mechanisms of resistance in Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative organism in Lyme disease. He is currently evaluating diagnostic tests for Lyme disease, given the unacceptably poor performance of diagnostic tests to date.
Chronicling Chronic Lyme Disease/ What’s in the EM rash?
Dr. John Aucott, Principal Investigator for the Lyme Disease Research Foundation of Maryland, is conducting a longitudinal study in collaboration with scientists at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. The clinical research team will examine the course of infection by the Lyme organism and the resulting illness from the initial rash to the chronic persistent stage. His objectives are to measure risk factors, symptom pattern and severity, and immune system response over time in patients with chronic Lyme symptoms. This study parallels another study being done in collaboration with Dr. Steven Schutzer of UMDNJ and Pacific Northwest labs. The group will be looking at erythema migrans (EM) rash biopsies for the presence of Borrelia strains. This will characterize the virulence and infectivity of certain strains of the Lyme disease organism.
Dr. Armin Alaedini, as Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University, conducted research to determine the relevance and role of the body's immune system in chronic Lyme disease. To understand more fully how to help patients whose symptoms persist after antibiotic treatment, Dr. Alaedini analyzed blood and spinal fluid for antibodies against the body’s own nerve tissue.
Diagnostic Biomarkers for Persisting Brain and Nervous System Symptoms in Lyme Disease
This study is led by Steven Schutzer, MD, a physician-scientist and Professor of Medicine at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. The study utilizes the most advanced mass spectroscopy and protein separation techniques in the United States. He has established a comprehensive list of proteins in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF, the liquid window of the brain) of normal healthy people. He has done the same in people with persisting brain and nervous system symptoms in Lyme disease. Through advanced proteomics, Dr. Schutzer has found that post-treatment Lyme encephalopathy patients possess a unique subset of spinal fluid proteins. These proteins may one day serve as biomarkers. This number can be narrowed down to the top ones in a Verification Phase using samples from separate individual patients. That analysis is ongoing.
Understanding Chronic Lyme Disease Syndrome
Dr. Karen Newell, Associate Professor, Department of Biology at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, Scientific Director of the CU Institute of Bioenergetics, and newly affiliated with Texas A & M University, believes that the genetic blueprint of an individual determines certain immune characteristics that can contribute to the elimination of disease, or its progression into chronic and persistent infection. In healthy individuals, self-peptides and/or their presenting cells are usually removed. Those with a blueprint that does not allow these self-peptides to be removed, tend to mount an auto-reactive or chronic inflammatory immune response. Her theory has revealed a “targeted” peptide to replace/remove the self-peptide and restore a healthy immune response. Her research delves into the mechanism by which unchecked immunologic responses to infection result in chronic disease or inflammation. The results of Dr. Newell's research may hold the key to unlocking the mystery behind chronic Lyme disease. Dr. Newell has synthesized a self-peptide to compete with the endogenous ones. This synthetic may be the first treatment ever in chronic Lyme. A pre-investigational new drug application is now pending with the FDA.
Model for Chronic Lyme Disease
Dr. Ying Zhang, professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, has reproduced the culture of Borrelia burgdorferi in its L form. The L forms are morphologically, and perhaps chemically, different from the spirochetal form. L forms are known to be responsible for persistent infections among other bacteria. Now successful, the culture technique will allow antibiotic sensitivity testing in vitro, leading to more effective antibiotic therapies, and surface protein analysis, facilitating the development of vaccines or treatment against another form of Borrelia infection.