Rapid Lyme disease tests could soon lead to a doctor’s office near you

Mollie Jewett, Associate Professor and Head of Immunity and Pathogenesis at the College of Medicine, and Brian Kim, Associate Professor at the College of Engineering and Computer Science, will receive a grant of 325,000 from the Global Lyme Alliance over a two-year period USD split to a rapid test that can detect the disease weeks earlier than current tests allow. The new test would eliminate the need to visit diagnostic laboratories and wait for results.

Lyme disease is transmitted by deer ticks and infects people when they are bitten by ticks that carry the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. Deer ticks are particularly common in the northeastern United States, and humans are typically exposed to ticks during outdoor activities. Warming temperatures have helped tick populations explode and infiltrate wider areas of the country, increasing the likelihood of developing the disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 476,000 people are infected with Lyme disease each year.

Early symptoms of Lyme disease include a fever, headache, fatigue, and the possibility of a tell-tale rash at the site of the bite. If left untreated, the infection can spread to the joints, heart, and nervous system and lead to long-term debilitating illnesses.

“Tests are a real barrier for patients. The longer the patient goes without treatment, the higher the potential for significant persistent symptoms, ”says Jewett. “Lyme disease antibodies take up to 14 days to be detectable. With the direct detection of the bacteria that cause Lyme disease, the test fills the current blind spot in the time from infection to diagnosis. “

If the infection is detected early and treated with antibiotics in advance, the patients recover quickly without long-term consequences. Patients treated for later stages of the disease tend to respond well to antibiotics, but some continue to experience persistent symptoms called post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome.

Jewett is developing a molecular test that can not only test for antibodies in the blood that are specific to the infection, but can also directly detect the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. The portable diagnostic device, which the researchers call Lyme iDS, combines Jewett’s molecular test with Kim’s detection device.

“The science and technology behind the device can be applied to many diseases with biological fluids such as blood in the case of Lyme disease,” says Kim, who has successfully used his test device to detect HIV, Zika virus, tuberculosis and COVID-19. His goal is to make testing easier, faster, and cheaper by building a device with less expensive components that is as powerful as the currently more expensive and bulky instruments.

Griffith Parks, Deputy Dean of Research at the College of Medicine and Director of the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, praised the joint research project.

“This is a prime example of how two great researchers can work together to address an important biomedical problem from new, complementary perspectives,” said Parks.

“We are pleased that the faculties of the College of Medicine are working closely with the strong faculties of the College of Engineering and Computer Science.”

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