Bay Area Lyme Foundation Celebrates Department of Defense CDMRP Tick-borne Disease Awardees
Projects of three awardees to be enabled by Lyme Disease Biobank samples
PORTOLA VALLEY, Calif., March 23, 2023—Bay Area Lyme Foundation, a leading sponsor of Lyme disease research in the US, announces that two projects it has previously funded have now received Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP) Tick-Borne Disease awards. Three of the six recently announced CDMRP awardees will be using biological samples from Bay Area Lyme Foundation’s Lyme Disease Biobank to enable their research into diagnostics and therapeutics for tick-borne diseases, including Lyme disease—which infects half a million people each year.
“Government awards like CDMRP help propel much needed research on tick-borne illnesses forward, and, with three diagnostics projects using Biobank samples, we are honored to play a part in making this important research possible,” said Liz Horn, PhD, MBI, Principal Investigator, Lyme Disease Biobank, which provides researchers with access to reliable biological samples to enable research toward better diagnostics and treatments for these complex diseases. “If researchers don’t have access to well-characterized blood samples with robust testing and medical information, they can’t build the necessary research programs to develop better diagnostics, which are urgently needed for these complex diseases,” added Dr. Horn.
With a vision of preventing, better diagnosing, and resolving the impact of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses and conditions, particularly for military forces and their dependents, the CDMRP Tick-borne Disease Research program has just announced the following six research awardees for fiscal year 2022:
- Linden Hu, MD, Tufts University, Therapeutic/Diagnostic Research Award recipient—Having identified a series of anti-phospholipid antibodies (IgM, IgG subclasses, IgA) that may arise earlier in Lyme disease infection and decline faster after treatment than the antibodies currently used in serologic Lyme testing, the Hu lab is designing a diagnostic for persistent Lyme disease using this new panel of anti-phospholipid antibodies. This diagnostic aims to identify a subset of patients that may respond best to additional therapy. The lab will utilize Lyme samples from the extensive collections of Lyme Disease Biobank, Adriana Marques, MD (NIH), and John Aucott, MD (Johns Hopkins University). Peter Gwynne, research assistant professor in Hu’s lab, was a Bay Area Lyme Foundation ELA winner in 2022 and has used samples from the Lyme Disease Biobank.
- Brandon Jutras, PhD, Virginia Tech, Therapeutic/Diagnostic Research Award recipient—The Jutras lab is re-envisioning Lyme disease diagnostics and has created several monoclonal antibodies that are able to detect a component of the bacterial cell wall called peptidoglycan that the Lyme bacterium releases as it grows. Using these monoclonal antibodies, they will develop direct, simple, rapid tests that are no more complicated than a COVID-19 PCR test. Jutras was a Bay Area Lyme Foundation ELA winner in 2021 and his lab will be using samples from the Lyme Biobank to validate their novel diagnostics.
- Rafal Tokarz, PhD, Columbia University, Therapeutic/Diagnostic Research Award recipient—To overcome current Lyme diagnostic challenges, the Tokarz lab is developing a diagnostic test called the Tick-borne Disease Capture Sequencing Assay (TBDCapSeq), which is based on a technique called Next Generation Sequencing. TBDCapSeq seeks to rapidly and directly detect a wide range of tick-borne pathogens and co-infections in a single assay and uncover the emergence of new pathogen variants. Recently publishing their initial findings in Frontiers in Microbiology using Lyme Disease Biobank samples, Tokarz and his team found that, compared to PCR, TBDCapSeq had better sensitivity and could identify infections from a wider range of tick-borne agents. The Tokarz lab is continuing to develop TBDCapSeq using Lyme Disease Biobank samples.
- Nicole Baumgarth, DVM PhD, Johns Hopkins University, Idea Development Award recipient— Baumgarth’s lab is developing a method to understand whether the suppression of effective antibody responses by B. burgdorferi (Bb) can change the function of the gastrointestinal tract, causing “leaky” gut and letting microbes from the lumen of the gut enter the bloodstream. A breach in normal barriers such as this can cause ongoing symptoms. The outcomes of the studies will help identify new therapies aimed at treating symptoms associated with persistent Lyme disease.
- Joseph W. Turek, MD, PhD, MBA, Duke University, Idea Development Award recipient—The Turek lab is conducting a study to evaluate the prevention of valvular damage in patients with alpha-gal syndrome (AGS), a potentially life-threatening allergy that begins due to a lone star tick bite, using commercially available allergy medication. Further, the study aims to gain an understanding of the clinical implication of AGS in heart surgery to allow researchers the opportunity to extend the functional life of replacement heart valves and improve care for patients.
- Edouard Vannier, PharmD, PhD, Tufts University, Idea Development Award—In order to prevent babesiosis as well as reduce ticks embedded in the skin, Vannier’s lab is developing a subunit vaccine against babesiosis that will trigger an antibody response interrupting the lifecycle of B. microti. A vaccine for babesiosis will most benefit veterans over 50 years of age, as age increases risk of severe illness, but the researchers anticipate that the vaccine will also suppress symptoms in younger, active people, offering protection for current military members. By reducing symptoms and length of infection, the vaccine will also protect the blood supply of any asymptomatic carriers of B. microti, allowing them to continue donating blood for service members in need of a blood transfusion.
“Because Bay Area Lyme Foundation is designed to kickstart innovative tick-borne disease research, it is incredibly rewarding for us to see the novel research concepts that we identified as promising in their early stages receive coveted government recognition and financial support,” said Wendy Adams, research grant director of the Bay Area Lyme Foundation. “We send our congratulations to all of these winners and are hopeful that their efforts will help advance care for all of those with tick-borne disease.”
Researchers from universities, hospitals, and independent research entities in the United States who are interested in applying for grants from Bay Area Lyme Foundation can learn more about the grant process here.
About Lyme disease
The most common vector-borne infectious disease in the US, Lyme disease is a potentially disabling infection caused by bacteria transmitted through the bite of an infected tick to people and pets, and can be potentially passed from a pregnant mother to her unborn baby. If caught early, most cases of Lyme disease can be effectively treated, but it is commonly misdiagnosed due to lack of awareness and inaccurate diagnostic tests. There are almost 500,000 new cases of Lyme disease each year, according to statistics released in 2018 by the CDC. As a result of the difficulty in diagnosing and treating Lyme disease, up to two million Americans may be suffering from the impact of its debilitating long-term symptoms and complications, according to Bay Area Lyme Foundation estimates.
About Lyme Disease Biobank
Lyme Disease Biobank (LDB), a program of the Bay Area Lyme Foundation, is a non-profit organization working to accelerate research of Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections. With a collection of biological specimens from more than 1,200 participants, including serum, blood, urine and tissue, LDB provides much-needed samples to approved researchers working to better understand tick-borne diseases and develop improved diagnostic tests and therapeutics. Blood and urine samples are collected from the Northeast, Upper Midwest and West Coast areas of the US, and tissue samples are collected throughout the country.
Healthcare providers looking to get involved, and patients interested in donating blood, urine or tissue samples can learn more here: https://www.bayarealyme.org/our-research/biobank/patient-information. Researchers interested in obtaining samples should visit www.lymebiobank.org or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Bay Area Lyme Foundation
Bay Area Lyme Foundation, a national organization committed to making Lyme disease easy to diagnose and simple to cure, is the leading public not-for-profit sponsor of innovative Lyme disease research in the US. A 501c3 organization based in Silicon Valley, Bay Area Lyme Foundation collaborates with world-class scientists and institutions to accelerate medical breakthroughs for Lyme disease. It is also dedicated to providing reliable, fact-based information so that prevention and the importance of early treatment are common knowledge. A pivotal donation from The LaureL STEM FUND covers overhead costs and allows for 100% of all donor contributions to the Bay Area Lyme Foundation to go directly to research and prevention programs. For more information about Lyme disease or to get involved, visit www.bayarealyme.org or call us at 650-530-2439.
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