Tag Archives: lyme disease

Novel mRNA vaccine against ticks works in guinea pigs

A group of researchers from Yale University have developed an mRNA vaccine that teaches the immune system to identify saliva from tick bites. The vaccine, which proved to be effective in guinea pigs, could prevent ticks from feeding on and then transmitting tick-borne diseases to people, a growing problem in many countries. 

It's a much bigger problem than you think
Image credit: Creative Commons / Jaqueline Mattias.

The vaccine is based on the same mRNA technology that has proven effective against COVID-19. Essentially, the mRNA shot means being injected with genetic material from the target virus instead of the virus itself. The mRNA gives your body instructions to fight the targeted pathogen and then is eliminated. Researchers have been working on mRNA vaccines, but thanks to the great efforts invested in the current pandemic, we’re finally on the right path. 

“There are multiple tick-borne diseases, and this approach potentially offers more broad-based protection than a vaccine that targets a specific pathogen,” senior author Erol Fikrig and Yale researcher said in a statement. “It could also be used in conjunction with more traditional, pathogen-based vaccines to increase their efficacy.”

Lyme disease is the most famous and damaging of them all tick-borne diseases, but it’s not the only one. Lyme, as well as several other diseases, is expanding across North America and Europe, with about 40,000 reported cases in the US per year. Ticks are a potential danger to anyone outdoors, from farmworkers to hikers, and they transmit several pathogens that can cause serious health problems that can even be life-threatening.

The new vaccine is different from those developed by Valneva and Pfizer and it’s only early stages of development but moving forward. The main difference is that it targets the bacteria responsible instead of the tick carrier. They are both promising approaches that could bring a solution to a growing health concern. 

Developing a vaccine

The researchers at Yale developed a new vaccine that trains the immune system to respond to tick bites, exposing it to 19 proteins found in tick saliva. It has mRNA molecules that tell the cells to produce these proteins – just like the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine tells the cells to manufacture coronavirus proteins to shield against the virus. 

In a set of experiments, the team tested the vaccine on guinea pigs. Unlike unvaccinated animals, vaccinated guinea pigs exposed to ticks developed red rashes at the place where they were bitten, suggesting an immune response. The ticks also tended to detach early on without sucking as much blood as they normally would.

The researchers also placed ticks carrying the Lyme disease on both vaccinated and unvaccinated animals. They removed the ticks once the skin rashes appeared on the animals, something that usually happens in the first 18 hours. While none of the vaccinated guinea pigs became infected, half the unvaccinated animals did.

“The vaccine enhances the ability to recognize a tick bite, partially turning a tick bite into a mosquito bite,” Fikrig said in a statement. “When you feel a mosquito bite, you swat it. With the vaccine, there is redness and likely an itch so you can recognize that you have been bitten and can pull the tick off quickly.”

While the vaccine was successfully in guinea pigs, it wasn’t in mice – unable to get a natural resistance after infection. The researchers now plan to test it in other animals, such as rabbits, so to better understand how the immunity of ticks varies in different hosts, and slowly move on towards humans. They also want to develop in the future vaccines for other tick-borne pathogens.

The study was published in the journal Science Transnational Medicine.

New treatment could help eradicate Lyme disease

Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the United States, affecting more than 300.000 people per year. It’s caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected black-legged ticks.

Ticks transmit the Lyme disease. Credit Wikipedia Commons

The most common treatment for the disease is oral antibiotics, typically doxycycline, used in the early stages of Lime. Nevertheless, for reasons still unclear, the antibiotics don’t work for up to 20% of the people with the disease, which has led researchers to look at alternative approaches.

“Some researchers think this may be due to drug-tolerant bacteria living in the body and continuing to cause disease,” Jayakumar Rajadas, director of the Biomaterials and Advanced Drug Delivery Laboratory at the Stanford School of Medicine. “Others believe it’s an immune disorder caused by bacteria during the first exposure.”

Rajadas and a group of researchers from Stanford and Loyola College decided to investigate whether two different antibiotic drugs, cefotaxime and azlocillin, could prove more effective at killing the bacteria in the early stages of the disease than the currently prescribed antibiotic doxycycline.

The team first tested to see whether different doses of the drugs could kill drug-tolerant borrelia bacteria grown on laboratory plates better than a standard Lyme disease antibiotic. They did these three times in triplicate and at different ages of the bacteria.

The results were highly positive. At high concentrations, both drugs could kill the bacteria cells and outperformed the standard Lyme disease antibiotic. When the study team tested the drugs at lower doses, azlocillin outperformed the standard antibiotic and cefotaxime.

The next step was testing the two new drugs in a small number of laboratory-bred mice that they infected with the bacteria. They treated the mice at different stages of the disease and gave them a daily dose of either azlocillin, cefotaxime, or the standard treatment for Lyme disease for 5 days.

The researchers found that both the standard treatment and azlocillin completely cleared the infection in the early stages of the disease, while cefotaxime did not. After three weeks, they couldn’t find any bacteria in the mice that had been given azlocillin, while the ones that had been given the standard treatment still had it.

Now, the team plans to test azlocillin in a clinical trial on humans. Although these preliminary results are promising, this was a small study carried out in laboratory-grown mice, so researchers may not see similar results in humans. However, as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already approved azlocillin.

“We have been screening potential drugs for 6 years,” Venkata Raveendra Pothineni, Ph.D, said. “We’ve screened almost 8,000 chemical compounds. We have tested 50 molecules in the dish. Our main goal is to find the best compound for treating patients and stop this disease.”

The study was published in Nature.

Lyme Disease vaccine set to become available soon, as first trials successfully passed

In an exciting announcement, French drug manufacturer Valneva has announced that they’ve successfully completed their first-ever human trial of a vaccine against the disease. The vaccine, which is reportedly up to 96% effective, might soon be available in the UK and US at a “reasonably low” price.

Ticks really are horrendous creatures — they live in warm, humid vegetation, waiting on unsuspecting creatures to walk by so they can jump on and feed on their blood. To make matters even worse, ticks don’t just suck your blood, they also carry a wide range of pathogens, including viruses, bacteria, and protozoa. Among the disease which ticks can carry, the most feared one is Lyme Disease — and for good reason.

Lyme Disease is one of the most common and widespread vector-borne illnesses in the Northern Hemisphere. After a tick bite, it typically kicks off through an expanding area of redness on the skin, though about one in four people don’t get a rash at all. If untreated, the disease can cause the loss of the ability to move one or both sides of the face, joint pains, severe headaches with neck stiffness, and to top it all off, the symptoms can resurface months or even years later. In some cases, the symptoms can re-emerge even after treatment, so it’s no wonder that Lyme Disease has become so feared.

This is where the new vaccine kicks in. The vaccine typically works by kickstarting the immune system to produce antibodies that attack the bacteria hiding inside the insect, preventing them from entering the human blood. According to trials, the vaccine has been found to be between 71.4% and 96.4% effective.

Things seem to bode well for this vaccine, as there are no significant side effects associated with it so far. The vaccine is available for adults or children as young as 2. After the vaccine is administered first, a booster dose is administered 13 months later, to improve effectiveness.

David Lawrence, Valneva’s chief financial officer, told The Sunday Telegraph that the company was investing £262 million ($350 million) into the development of the vaccine, attempting to make it even more effective, and also making sure that it can be manufactured at a reasonable price.

Valneva’s vaccine candidate, VLA15, is currently the only active vaccine program in clinical development against Lyme disease. The program was closely followed by national and international health bodies, being granted Fast Track designation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in July 2017.

EDIT: The article was edited to clarify that this is not the first ever Lyme vaccine. In 1998, the FDA approved a new recombinant Lyme vaccine, LYMErix™, which reduced new infections in vaccinated adults by nearly 80%. Just 3 years later, the manufacturer voluntarily withdrew its product from the market amidst media coverage, fears of vaccine side-effects, and declining sales. More information here.

Ixodes tick.

Researchers zero in on Lyme disease’s ability to resurface months after treatment

New research at the University of Maryland (UMD) has uncovered how bacteria that cause Lyme disease survive and persist for months following our body’s immune response.

Ixodes tick.

Ixodes tick as seen under a confocal immunofluorescence microscope.
Image credits Dr. Utpal Pal / University of Maryland.

Throughout his 12 years of work at the UMD, Dr. Utpal Pal has gained a unique understanding of the works of Lyme disease and the bacteria that causes it (spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi). His previous research isolated the protein marker we use to identify when this spirochete infects the body. A new paper from his lab sheds light on one of this bacteria’s scariest and least understood abilities, by describing a protein it produces that disables our bodies initial immune responses. The new study also explains how this bacteria can re-appear in the body weeks after treatment.

When life gives you limes

Borrelia burgdorferi is one of the few pathogens that can persist in the body for long periods of time. In light of this fact, there has been keen interest from the medical community in understanding why and how it does it. Such knowledge would be a major breakthrough for the treatment of tick-borne diseases like Lyme, which is becoming an increasingly prevalent public health issue.

“Most people don’t realize that they actually are walking around with more bacterial cells in their bodies than their own cells, so we are really bags of bacteria,” Pal says. “Most are good, but the second your body detects something that is a pathogen and can cause disease, your immune system starts to work.”

According to Pal, Lyme disease isn’t actually caused by the bacteria, but by your body’s reaction to it. When the infection is first detected, our immune system has to work on incomplete information: it knows something is trying to invade, but not exactly what. So, it sends a versatile, nonspecific wave of attack in a bid to fight off the pathogens before they set up camp. This stage usually takes a few hours to a few days at most.

If unsuccessful, our immune system gets readied for a prolonged conflict. It takes between seven to ten days to gather data on the enemy, finally sending a second, more numerous and highly specialized wave of reinforcement to wipe the floor with whatever pathogens are still alive and kicking.

In the case of Lyme disease, however, this dance doesn’t go according to our body’s schedule. Sometime between six months to a year after traditional antibiotic therapy, many people experience returning, non-objective symptoms of varying intensity for which there is no currently-known treatment (but plenty of bogus ones) — a condition known as Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome.

Dr. Pal and colleagues found that even in the absence of the protein used to defeat the first attack from our immune systems, the infection can reoccur a few weeks later. This suggests Borrelia, just like our immune system, uses a layered defense strategy, something that has never been observed before — and which could explain what causes chronic cases of Lyme disease.

“[Borrelia burgdorferi] wins the first battle, and your body overreacts so much that it causes intense inflammation in all the joints and areas that the bacteria spreads by sending so many reinforcements to kill it. Borrelia is then killed, but the inflammation remains and causes many of your symptoms for Lyme disease,” Pal explains.

“That is why killing Borrelia in the first wave of immunity is so important.”

According to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are about 300,000 new cases of Lyme disease in the US each year. However, these cases are largely underestimated and reported due to the attention given to mosquito-transmitted diseases like malaria. Pal says that ticks are actually a greater public health concern than people realize: he says “the majority” of vector-borne diseases in the US can be traced back to ticks, with 6 out of the 15 distinct tick diseases (including Lyme) transmitted by the Ixodes tick.

The paper “Plasticity in early immune evasion strategies of a bacterial pathogen” has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Medicine.

The CDC warns that “chronic Lyme” is bogus and the treatments are horrifying and deadly

With summer upon us in earnest, ticks are popping up all over the place. Even so, a growing trend has physicians more preoccupied than the risk of contracting Lyme disease — last Friday, a report published by the CDC warns people about the slew of bogus treatments marketed for the condition.

Medicine.

Image credits Andrea Ajale.

It’s a dark day indeed when the CDC has to protect people from dishonest treatments rather than diseases — but that’s exactly what the center had to do last Friday. Writing in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a group of doctors from all over the country, including members from the University of Colorado, the CDC, Yale University, Stanford, and the University of California, San Francisco warn that alternative medical treatments for “chronic Lyme disease” are all unproven and very likely harmful — some even deadly.

These doctors recount the experience of five patients who, erroneously or intentionally diagnosed with what’s essentially a made-up condition with no scientific backing, suffered through and from such treatments which in some cases cost them their lives.

Fake Lymes

Now, Lyme disease is a real, well-documented, pretty nasty disease. It’s caused by an infection with Borrelia burgdorferi, a spirochete which uses blacklegged ticks as a vector. Initial symptoms include the appearance of a characteristic “bull’s eye” rash on the skin, fever, headache, and fatigue. If untreated, the infection spreads out through the body causing arthritis, heart inflammation, dysfunctionalities of the nervous system, even brain swelling.

Patients may develop an (actual and recognized) condition called Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome / PTLDS. Such patients will show lingering symptoms after being cured of Lyme’s, and, while it’s exact cause is unknown researchers suspect it comes down to lingering tissue damage and the way out immune system responds to them — not an infection, and not something which can be cured by antibiotics.

So it’s easy to see why nobody would be thrilled of contacting it. Luckily, its symptoms make Lyme disease pretty easy to spot and two to four weeks of antibiotic treatments usually flushes the spirochetes out of your system.

But capitalizing on that fear are people who advocate for chronic Lyme disease or, as I like to call it, male Bos taurus feces. It’s a wide-net grouping of vague, nondescript symptoms, ranging from fatigue and generalized pain to neurological disorders. Most times, the diagnostic is pinned without performing any FDA-approved lab testing, often without any lab testing at all, for that matter. In fact, it’s not uncommon for the patient to be told he’s suffering from chronic Lyme despite negative lab results for a B. burgdorferi infection. Because what’s a bit of evidence worth in the face of your pseudo-scientific conviction and/or willingness to con people out of money?

Take this pill daily — for years

Blacklegged Tick.

This is what a blacklegged (deer) tick looks like.
Image credits Fairfax County / Flickr.

Many patients, who are confused by their symptoms often fall for these treatments out of sheer desperation to find a cure to their suffering. Self-described “Lyme-literate” doctors, a term which isn’t indicative of any kind of training (if you hear your doctor say this it only means he’s particularly qualified to be replaced,) convince these patients they’re the victims of a chronic infection and put them on these “alternative” treatments.

What followed was exactly what you’d expect to happen when somebody treats you for something you don’t have in a way that doesn’t work — years of pointless suffering, avoidable infections, even death.

“Patients and their health care providers need to be aware of the risks associated with treatments for chronic Lyme disease,” the doctors declare.

Here’s a short recount of what the five patients mentioned by the authors went through.

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One woman in her 30s showed fatigue and joint pain. She was given several rounds of oral antibiotics, and her condition got worse. She was then administered IV antibiotics for several weeks following which she developed a severe catheter-associated blood infection. She ultimately died of septic shock.

Another woman, in her 50s, who had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS), also got a second diagnosis — chronic Lyme. She was prescribed a course of herbal remedies, and when these somehow, miraculously failed to cure the made-up disease, was put on IV antibiotics for seven months. This mammoth dose of drugs wrecked her intestinal flora and she developed C. difficile colitis, an intractable intestinal infection linked with antibiotic use. After two years battling the infection, she succumbed to ALS-associated complications.

One teenager suffering from headaches and back pain was diagnosed with chronic Lyme and put on a few months of oral antibiotics, followed by five months of IV antibiotics. She developed a severe blood infection as result of the treatment and suffered septic shock. She needed several weeks’ care in the ICU to recover.

A woman in her late 40s was put on several rounds of oral and IV antibiotics to treat her fatigue and cognitive difficulties two years after being treated for Lyme’s. She ultimately developed an infection which spread to her spine, destroying her 9th and 10th thoracic vertebrae.

The final patient, a woman in her 60s with an autoimmune disease, mixed connective tissue disease, and degenerative arthritis, was diagnosed with chronic Lyme and took more than 10 years of alternative therapies. During this time she overcame several catheter-associated blood infections, which eventually caused abscesses to form in her spine that required surgery.

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Regardless of whether you think you may suffer from PTLDS or “chronic Lyme”, you should avoid these alternative treatments at all costs, the CDC report reads. And there’s a lot of them out there. While the most widely-prescribed treatment are prolonged courses of antibiotics, in 2015 internet-listed therapies for Lyme disease and chronic Lyme ranged from simple herbal and vitamin supplements to $13,000 “photon” therapy, heat and magnet therapies, treatments to remove heavy metals such as mercury, bismuth treatments (potentially fatal), or infusions of hydrogen peroxide. That’s not all! The more exotic treatments included bee venom-based remedies, drinking a bleach solution, your own urine, or a coffee and herbal enema.

Delicious.

As you’ve seen earlier, antibiotics can cause a lot of harm. Their overuse destroys beneficial microbe communities in the body, power-level drug-resistant bugs in your body, and increase the chance of you getting a life-threatening, fully-resistant infection. But, since there’s such a bounty of these alternative treatments floating around, we can only imagine what the effects of some of them are — hint: definitely not good.

“These cases highlight the severity and scope of adverse effects that can be caused by the use of unproven treatments for chronic Lyme disease,” the authors conclude.

“In addition to the dangers associated with inappropriate antibiotic use, such as selection of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, these treatments can lead to injuries related to unnecessary procedures, bacteremia and resulting metastatic infection, venous thromboses, and missed opportunities to diagnose and treat the actual underlying cause of the patient’s symptoms.”

New Vaccine Developed to Prevent Lyme Disease

There is currently no Lyme borreliosis vaccine available for humans available for purchase, but a new research has shown how such a vaccine could be made.

Lyme disease (Lyme borreliosis) is an infectious disease caused by at least three species of bacteria belonging to the genus Borrelia. Each year, approximately 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported in the US by state health departments, but most cases go unnoticed, so the real number is actually much higher than that.

Now, scientists believe they have found a way to prevent Lyme disease with a vaccine:

“Mice were protected against both challenge with infected ticks and in vitro grown spirochetes. Immunological analyses (ELISA, surface binding and growth inhibition) indicated that the vaccine can provide protection against the majority of Borrelia species pathogenic for humans.”

Image via Ibogaine Thailand

Interestingly enough, it’s not the first time a vaccine for Lyme Disease has been discovered – in 1998, a vaccine became available for general use. The vaccine had an effectiveness of 78%, and about 1 500 000 doses were distributed for people between 15 and 70. However, anti-vaccine lobbyist groups started several law suits against the vaccine, claiming that it causes a number of negative side effects. Specifically, they were claiming that the vaccine causes arthritis.

After examining the reports, researchers “did not detect unexpected or unusual patterns of reported adverse events.”In other words, the data did not indicate that the events occurred at a higher rate than would be expected in the population regardless of Lyme vaccination, but the vaccine was taken off the shelves due to public backlash. Basically, even though there was no reason to believe that the vaccine does cause arthritis, simply because some people claimed it, the vaccine was forced off the market. Hopefully this won’t be the case here.

Journal Reference: Pär Comstedt, Markus Hanner, Wolfgang Schüler, Andreas Meinke, and Urban Lundberg. Design and Development of a Novel Vaccine for Protection against Lyme Borreliosis. PLoS One. 2014; 9(11): e113294. Published online Nov 19, 2014. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0113294

Amber discovery shows Lyme disease is older than human race

Lyme disease is a stealthy disease, which can be very dangerous, especially if misdiagnosed. It was only recognized officially 40 years ago, but now, a new amber research has shown that the bacteria causing it may have been around for over 15 million years – long before any human was walking on Earth. The study indicates tick-related illnesses have been around for the entire history of the human race.

Researchers from the Oregon State University (OSU) were studying amber from the Dominican Republic when they came across samples with Borrelia, a type of spirochete-like bacteria that to this day causes Lyme disease. The results were published in Historical Biology.

“Ticks and the bacteria they carry are very opportunistic,” said George Poinar, Jr., a professor emeritus in the Department of Integrative Biology of the OSU College of Science, and one of the world’s leading experts on plant and animal life forms found preserved in amber. “They are very efficient at maintaining populations of microbes in their tissues, and can infect mammals, birds, reptiles and other animals.

In a related study, published in Cretaceous Research, the same team announced the first fossil record of Rickettsial-like cells, a bacteria that can cause various types of spotted fever. The samples they analyzed however were much older – over 100 million years old.

As summer arrives and millions of people start heading for the outdoors, it’s important to be aware of the danger posed by ticks. Given the long period in which the bacteria has been around, researchers think that Lyme disease did much more damage than previously believed – but the diseases was never diagnosed.

“In the United States, Europe and Asia, ticks are a more important insect vector of disease than mosquitos,” Poinar said. “They can carry bacteria that cause a wide range of diseases, affect many different animal species, and often are not even understood or recognized by doctors. It’s likely that many ailments in human history for which doctors had no explanation have been caused by tick-borne disease.”

In 30 years of studying diseases revealed in the fossil record, Poinar has documented the ancient presence of such diseases as malaria, leishmania, and others. The oldest documented case of Lyme disease is the Tyrolean iceman, a 5,300-year-old mummy found in a glacier in the Italian Alps.

“Before he was frozen in the glacier, the iceman was probably already in misery from Lyme disease,” Poinar said. “He had a lot of health problems and was really a mess.”

Interestingly enough, at a 1909 research conference, Swedish dermatologist Arvid Afzelius presented a study about an expanding, ring-like lesion he had observed in an older woman following the bite of a sheep tick. He named the lesion erythema migrans – but it wasn’t until 1975 that the disease was properly identified and started being treated. Still, numerous cases are misdiagnosed even today. If you are bitten by a tick, be sure to visit your doctor!

Journal References: George Poinar. Spirochete-like cells in a Dominican amberAmbylommatick (Arachnida: Ixodidae). Historical Biology, 2014; 1 DOI: 10.1080/08912963.2014.897699
George Poinar. Rickettsial-like cells in the Cretaceous tick, Cornupalpatum burmanicum (Ixodida: Ixodidae). Cretaceous Research, 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.cretres.2014.02.007