Below is a letter from Global Lyme Alliance’s Chief Scientific Officer in response to the NIH’s request for information to their Tick-borne Diseases Strategic Plan
As Chief Scientific Officer of GLA, I herewith respond to the solicitation for feedback to the National Institutes of Health Tick-borne Diseases Strategic Plan, which was developed by the Tick-Borne Disease Working Group, a Health & Human Services advisory committee established by Congress in its 21st Century Cures Act. While the plan includes important topics on which research efforts should focus, our position is that it neglects several urgent areas that are of equal or higher importance.
Deficiencies in the current Strategic Plan include:
- The lack of any mention under the heading “Basic Research” of the need to better understand mechanisms of bacterial persistence both in reservoir species and in the face of exposure to antibiotics and the implications for treatment failure and persistent infection/symptomatology.
- The lack of mention under the heading “Diagnosis and Detection” of the need to supplement indirect diagnostic tests, that rely upon the presence of antibodies, with direct tests that detect the presence of pathogen-specific protein antigens or nucleic acid. Additionally, the testing paradigm needs to shift towards multi-pathogen (bacterial, viral, etc.) rather than solely Lyme disease diagnoses.
- The lack of mention under the heading “Therapeutics” of the need to develop novel treatment strategies for those suffering from multiple tick-borne and/or opportunistic infections. Additionally, there is a need to explore non-traditional treatment modalities to care for patients continuing to suffer from persistent infection/symptomatology due to initial antibiotic treatment failure.
The list also underemphasizes (1) the ecology and management of ticks; (2) ecological interactions between ticks, hosts, and pathogens; and (3) environmental drivers of tick emergence, spread, and changing risk. Specifically, the plan lacks:
- Mention of national surveillance of ticks and tick-borne pathogens that would provide real-world representations of exposure risk in space and time;
- Any mention of finding vulnerabilities in the tick/host/pathogen life cycle and of the importance of seeking the means of exploiting such vulnerabilities to control exposure;
- A focus on identifying and ameliorating anthropogenic disturbances (land use changes, climate change, habitat degradation, etc.) that exacerbate tick-borne risk;
- Recognition of the importance of understanding how both native and non-native ticks (e.g., black-legged ticks, lone star ticks, long-horned ticks, etc.) become invasive, rapidly expand beyond their historic geographic ranges, and potentially share hosts and pathogens; and
- A focus on novel and existing methods to reduce tick populations.
It is our institutional view that any set of research priorities on tick-borne diseases in the United States must address these essential issues. We hope that by pointing out these omissions you will be allowed to redress their absence in a final draft of the NIH’s Tick-borne Diseases Strategic Plan.
Timothy J. Sellati, Ph.D.
Chief Scientific Officer
Global Lyme Alliance