Hear from both Lyme patients as well as scientists, including Joel Tabb, Ph.D., of Ionica Sciences, who are on the front lines of tick-borne disease research. You’ll learn about Lyme disease, symptoms, and what is being done to tackle this growing epidemic. A question and answer session will follow.
Date: May 1, 2019 Time: 6:00pm – 8:00pm Location: Mohawk Valley Community College
by Mayla Hsu, Ph.D., Director of Research & Science, GLA
It is no surprise that when funding for research lags, associated progress in science and medicine slows. Perhaps no area of health research illustrates this fact better than that focusing on Lyme disease. Despite infecting at least 329,000 people in the U.S. each year, according to the CDC, and being known by the medical community for over 40 years, Lyme disease is still responsible for vast numbers of disabled and chronically ill sufferers. Global Lyme Alliance (GLA) has made great strides to fill the dearth of knowledge by funding high-level science, awarded to academic scientists for each of the past 20 years.
The current crop of grant applications are especially exciting in terms of their scientific breadth and depth. We have received 31 proposals from the U.S. and abroad, with 18 of them from researchers in Lyme-endemic U.S. states. The total amount requested was a record, totaling over $8 million, attesting to the strong interest in Lyme disease research among investigators. Of all the applicants, 25 (81%) have not previously been funded by GLA, which speaks to our growing acceptance and reputation among top researchers.
The applications received span a broad spectrum of research interests in the tick-borne disease field. Among them were creative ideas to improve Lyme disease diagnostics with new technologies which would allow more rapid and highly sensitive detection of Borrelia together with co-infecting microbes. Some proposals sought to study patient populations to better identify individuals with tick-borne infections and their co-morbidities. Support of biobanks to collect patient samples, in association with careful clinical data, was also requested. Some applications propose to study tick biology and environmental influences, and tick-bacteria interactions, which may reveal improved disease exposure prevention strategies. There were also inspiring applications for discovering and developing new potential treatments, and clinical science proposals which sought to understand the mechanisms of inflammation and pathology in organs targeted by Borrelia burgdorferi.
GLA’s rigorous process for evaluating grant applications, unique among Lyme disease nonprofits, is closely modeled on the peer-review guidelines used by the National Institutes of Health. Sixteen Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) members, consisting of scientists in industry and academia —who are all noted experts in medical research, immunology, and microbiology— are assigned applications in their respective fields of expertise.
Each application is then reviewed according to strict criteria. This process is followed by a series of discussions to ensure that only the most promising applications, directed by the most qualified and creative scientists, are funded. Throughout the grant selection process, GLA seeks those applications with a high likelihood of leading to evidence-based, validated scientific advances as a means of ensuring maximum potential effectiveness. The 2018-2019 grants will be announced in January 2019.
…the TBD-Serochip represents an important advance and significant improvement over existing tests for tick-borne diseases (TBDs), which have poor diagnostic accuracy and cannot test for more than a single infection at a time.
The testing arsenal available to front-line physicians responsible for accurately diagnosing tick-borne diseases has recently been bolstered by a new blood test called the Tick-Borne Disease Serochip (TBD-Serochip). Described in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, the TBD-Serochip represents an important advance and significant improvement over existing tests for tick-borne diseases (TBDs), which have poor diagnostic accuracy and cannot test for more than a single infection at a time. Currently, the two-tier diagnostic test for Lyme disease identifies fewer than 40 percent of patients with early Lyme disease and results in false positives 28 percent of the time.
The TBD-Serochip research team was led by co-lead authors Rafal Tokarz, Ph.D. and Nischay Mishra, Ph.D., who are associate research scientists at the Center for Infection and Immunity (CII) at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. As a true cross-disciplinary and multi-institutional effort, the team also included Brian Fallon, M.D. from the Global Lyme Alliance-funded Columbia University Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases Research Center, who contributed to the study design, as well as researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Roche Sequencing Solutions, Farmingdale State College, and State University of New York-Stony Brook.
According to Dr. Tokarz, “The number of Americans diagnosed with tick-borne disease is steadily increasing as tick populations have expanded geographically.” “Each year, approximately 3 million clinical specimens are tested for TBDs in the U.S. Nonetheless, the true incidence of TBDs is likely greatly underestimated, as patients with presumed TBDs are rarely tested for the full range of tick-borne pathogens, and only a fraction of positive cases are properly reported,” added Dr. Mishra. The power and promise of the TBD-Serochip derives from its ability to simultaneously test 170,000 individual protein fragments for the existence of pathogens connected to eight different TBDs including Anaplasma phagocytophilum (agent of human granulocytic anaplasmosis), Babesia microti (babesiosis), Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme disease), Borrelia miyamotoi, Ehrlichia chaffeensis (human monocytic ehrlichiosis), Rickettsia rickettsii (Rocky Mountain spotted fever), Heartland virus and Powassan virus.
As such, a single sample via TBD-Serochip can determine whether an individual is infected with more than one tick-borne pathogen. This diagnostic capability is essential as individual ticks frequently harbor more than one pathogen and appropriate treatment of patients with multiple TBDs would potentially require the use of different antibiotics to effectively kill them. More importantly is the new discovery’s capacity for scalability, for as new tick-borne infectious agents are discovered, TBD-Serochip can be modified to target them, a process the researchers say can be done in less than four weeks.
Despite the significance of the TBD-Serochip being added to a physician’s diagnostics arsenal, as pointed out in another GLA POV titled “Advances in Serodiagnostic Testing for Lyme Disease Are at Hand” improvements in serologic testing methods or protocols will not address their inability to differentiate active infection from past exposure. Thus, ideally, use of tests like TBD-Serochip will be coupled with diagnostic methods to directly detect the presence ofB. burgdorferi and other tick-borne pathogens in patient’s samples, thereby discriminating between active rather than past infection in patients. GLA is actively supporting research efforts to develop such direct detection methods.
Timothy J. Sellati, PH.D. is Chief Scientific Officer at Global Lyme Alliance
As GLA’s Chief Scientific Officer, Dr. Sellati leads GLA’s research initiatives to accelerate the development of more effective methods of diagnosis and treatment of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases.
GLA CEO Scott Santarella shares his view on what the proposed NIH budget cuts could mean for Lyme and tick-borne disease research.
by Scott Santarella, CEO, Global Lyme Alliance
As we learned last week, the Trump administration’s projected fiscal 2018 budget constitutes a radical reallocation of federal spending. The $5.8 billion in proposed cuts to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget would alone effectively defund thousands of biomedical research programs—in order to fund more military spending.
While this budget will be debated for some time to come, we are convinced that the proposed cuts would represent a grievous setback for Lyme and tick-borne disease research. The view that the security and prosperity of our country must come at the expense of medical research is simply incorrect. Research is an economic driver.
Government funding for Lyme and tick-borne disease research is already minimal, with only 17% of applications addressing Lyme approved by NIH every year. Yet the loss of even that small increment of funding would represent an unprecedented abandonment of those individuals suffering from this terrible disease.
Global Lyme Alliance is a dynamic and rapidly growing organization whose contributions to improved diagnostics and treatment modalities have been crucial. Still, it would take us years to supplant the lost NIH investment in Lyme and tick-borne disease research. The Lyme community cannot afford to face a gap of years in which research progress is static.
Lyme and tick-borne disease patients already face the great injustice of still having no definitive diagnostic test and only limited treatment options. Left untreated, or inadequately treated, Lyme’s victims suffer devastating health outcomes. To further compound that injustice by thwarting research progress is unconscionable. With 329,000 people in the U.S. diagnosed with Lyme disease annually, this is the wrong time for surrender.
Global Lyme Alliance will continue to do what it has always done to maximize its fundraising operations. But make no mistake, the loss of NIH research dollars would be deleterious beyond our imagining. We hope you will make your voice heard and send a clear message to your Congressional representatives to ensure federal funding levels for Lyme and tick-borne research remain strong.