Biotechnology

The NIH award will fund post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome research

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The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, has provided five research projects to better understand Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS), which is a collection of symptoms, such as pain, fatigue, and difficulty thinking or “brain fog”, that persists following standard treatment for Lyme disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 476,000 people in the United States are infected with Lyme disease each year. Between 10 and 20% of them experience PTLDS.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, has provided five research projects to better understand Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS), which is a collection of symptoms, such as pain, fatigue, and difficulty thinking or “brain fog”, that persists following standard treatment for Lyme disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 476,000 people in the United States are infected with Lyme disease each year. Between 10 and 20% of them experience PTLDS.

“As tick-borne diseases, including Lyme disease, become more common and widespread in the United States, it becomes increasingly urgent for us to understand all aspects of the disease, including the root causes of PTLDS,” said NIAID Acting Director Hugh Auchincloss, MD.

Lyme disease is caused by bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi (and related species) that are transmitted by the bite of an infected flea. The classic sign of early-stage Lyme disease is the distinctive bull’s-eye-shaped rash around the tick bite. If not treated in its early stages, the infection can develop into a late-stage disease, which can be associated with fatigue, severe headaches, dizziness, facial paralysis and heart problems, as well as joint, tendon, muscle and nerve pain. Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated effectively with oral antibiotics. However, some patients suffer from symptoms that persist long after the initial administration of antibiotics, even though the active infection appears to have cleared. The cause of PTLDS is unknown, but scientists hypothesize that it may be due to a misdirected immune response Borrelia burgdorferi in which the immune system attacks the patient’s own cells; ongoing Borrelia burgdorferi infections that are difficult to detect; or some other reason.

Unfortunately, there is no standard treatment for PTLDS. Although long-term antibiotics are often used, clinical studies have shown that this approach is not effective, or that the risks and side effects of long-term antibiotics outweigh the potential benefits. In addition, PTLDS is often difficult to diagnose because symptoms vary widely, and because so far there is little evidence that patients have active disease. Borrelia burgdorferi infection.

Expanding our understanding of PTLDS can also contribute to our knowledge of a broader set of infection-related chronic diseases, such as Long COVID and Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS). Without understanding the biological processes of this condition, it will be very difficult to develop effective clinical interventions. The new NIAID award for PTLDS, which will amount to approximately $3.2 million in first year funding, will support work on possible causes of persistent PTLDS symptoms over five years. The award recipients are:

Virginia Tech, Blacksburg
Project title: Unusual natural release of peptidoglycan fragments drives persistent Lyme disease symptoms in susceptible hosts
Principal Investigator: Brandon Jutras, Ph.D.
Grant: 1 R01 AI178711-01

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge
Project title: Unlocking the secrets of serology: harnessing novel immune biomarkers to predict Lyme disease progression and recovery
Principal Investigator: Michal Tal, Ph.D.
Grant: 1 R01 AI178713-01

Tufts University, Boston
Project title: Auto-antibodies as predictive markers for Post-treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome
Principal Investigator: Linden Hu, MD
Grant: 1 R01 AI178725-01

Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore
Project title: Determinants of post-treatment phenotypes in Lyme disease
Principal investigator: John Aucott, MD
Grant: 1 R01 AI178726-01

Arizona State University, Tempe
Project title: Discovery of early immunological biomarkers for PTLDS risk through machine learning-assisted broad temporal profiling of humoral immune responses
Principal Investigator: Neal Woodbury, Ph.D.
Grant: 1 R01 AI178727-01


NIAID conducts and supports research—at the NIH, across the United States, and around the world—to study the causes of infectious and immune-mediated diseases, and to develop better ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat these diseases. News releases, fact sheets, and other NIAID-related materials are available on the NIAID website.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the national agency for medical research, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the US Department of Health and Human Services. The NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic medical, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating causes, treatments, and cures for common and rare diseases. For more information about the NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

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