Could Vaccine Prevent Lyme Disease?


This tick season, an estimated 300,000 Americans will likely be infected with Lyme disease -- 10 times the number of cases that are usually reported.

Although researchers had long suspected the disease was much more prevalent than official numbers suggested, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's announced the higher estimate last summer, it revved up the race to create a vaccine.

Spread through the bite of a blacklegged (deer) tick, untreated Lyme disease can affect the joints, the heart, and the nervous system. Misdiagnosis or lack of treatment can lead to fatigue, arthritis, neurological problems, even personality changes.

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Summertime means being outside, and being outside means watching out for ticks. The bloodsucking parasites transmit illnesses like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Research on potential vaccines has taken different approaches:

Dr. Richard T. Marconi's lab at Virginia Commonwealth University is developing a novel Lyme disease vaccine by fusing together segments of different proteins to create a new protein that could protect against all strains of Lyme disease.

Usually, vaccines are created from a single protein, but since the bacteria that cause Lyme disease vary by location, researchers knew they needed to combat the bugs with a different broader-spectrum approach.

Lyme Disease: Where's the Vaccine?

"This has the potential to protect you anywhere in North America, Europe, or Asia," he said. "We have utilized it in animal models, and when you vaccinate them with chimeric proteins, the antibodies they make are highly effective at destroying the Lyme disease bacteria."

Meanwhile, Dr. Thomas N. Mather, a University of Rhode Island professor and director of its TickEncounter Resource Center, is leading a team of scientists that have identified specific components of tick saliva able to trigger an immune reaction that could form the basis for a vaccine that could potentially prevent a number of serious tick-transmitted infections, including Lyme disease.

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