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Lyme Disease Research Remains Active During Pandemic

GLA-funded researchers are still focused on their Lyme disease research initiatives

 

by Mayla Hsu, Ph.D., Director of Research and Science, GLA

During this period of quarantines and social distancing, it is important to remember that while many labs are not running at full capacity, research into Lyme and other tick-borne diseases continues. Here’s a quick peek at what some of Global Lyme Alliance’s research partners have been working on during the COVID-19 quarantine.

Lyme and tick-borne diseases are bacterial infections, and this makes some work in this area exempt from the restrictions that have stopped other kinds of lab work completely. It turns out this is also a great time to catch up with study collaborators and other tasks that are sometimes given less attention when the focus is primarily on experimentation.

Nicole Baumgarth, D.V.M., Ph.D., an immunologist at the University of California-Davis, told us about her mice who have long-term infections of Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. Caring for them must continue even under social distancing constraints, and thankfully, continuing these studies means valuable data sets won’t be lost. Dr. Baumgarth also notes that “research continues, as does the teaching and training of our students…The work continues remotely at much the same pace as before—sometimes, I feel, even more so! This includes analyzing data, generating summary graphs, reading published papers and writing research manuscripts.”

For Dr. Michael Eriksen Benros, a psychiatrist at Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark, the COVID-19 crisis brings patients whom he sees mostly via teleconferences. With his research, he says, “science does go on, luckily,” and he has been busy with revising publications, updating ethics and study protocols, and using time to reflect on the work and pursue new ideas. He recently received some funding to start a new study on the neurological and psychiatric complications in response to COVID-19, and will be using the same unique Danish nationwide health registries that he’s been using to study the links between Lyme disease and mental illness. This strategy taps into the information collected from a large population and can be applied to answer questions in both diseases. And because the health data is collected on a cradle-to-grave basis, it offers the possibility of studying lifelong disease outcomes.

Basic science studies in Lyme disease and bacterial genetics are also continuing apace. Klemen Strle, Ph.D., of the New York State Department of Health, points out that, “Although some of my time has been committed to COVID-19 related efforts, the majority of it remains focused on Lyme disease. Since much of the work these days involves collaborations, often with researchers at different institutions, working remotely has had less of an impact on this aspect of the work than I anticipated.” Dr. Strle has been presenting his work in online seminars and discussing new projects with collaborators. Much of this work is in preparation for projects that will start soon, as tick-borne disease season begins.

Dr. Lise Nigrovic, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, directs the Pedi Lyme Net, a GLA-funded network of emergency room pediatricians in seven states. The network collects biospecimens from suspected tick-borne disease patients. These specimens will be used to develop new diagnostics and to understand Lyme and other co-infecting pathogens in children. Dr. Nigrovic says that while “COVID-19 has caused a temporary cessation of research, both basic and clinical … the Pedi Lyme Net site’s principal investigators are on the front lines in caring for children in the emergency departments.  However, Pedi Lyme Net research teams are still hard at work completing data entry, patient follow-up and biobank organization. Using already collected patient data, we are completing planned analyses and drafting manuscripts to share our findings.”

One task that many GLA-funded investigators are engaged in is publication writing, a vital part of the research process. As described in a previous blog, having research findings accepted and published in peer-reviewed scientific journals is essential in getting those new advances disseminated and read within the wider research community. Publishing, thus, advances our understanding of Lyme and tick-borne diseases, and fuels new ideas about treatment. So, a positive aspect of this quarantine period is that GLA-funded researchers will soon have their manuscripts ready for publication. In the coming year, we anticipate many new articles sharing exciting new findings and spurring even more scientific creativity.


Learn More About GLA Research Initiatives

GLA Scientific Advisory Board
Lyme Disease Research Report: Looking Back, Moving Forward
Published Research Findings
2019 Grantees
Postdoctoral Fellowships