Geetha Parthasarathy, PhD, a research scientist at Tulane National Primate Research Center, was one of two researchers awarded a $100,000 grant last weekend at the Bay Area Lyme Foundation’s seventh annual LymeAid event. Parthasarathy received the 2019 Laure Woods Emerging Leader Award, a grant designed by Bay Area Lyme Foundation to be a catalyst for future research, particularly in the areas of Lyme diagnostics and novel therapies.
Lyme disease is a potentially disabling tick-borne infectious disease that is essentially inflammatory in nature, affecting various organs of the body. Parthasarathy’s grant project will investigate the use of novel supplemental therapeutics for the treatment of acute Lyme neuroborreliosis, a nervous system disorder affecting the central and peripheral nervous systems. Parthasarathy discovered that a certain growth factor receptor is activated in brain cells in response to the Lyme disease bacterium Borrelia burgodorferi, and that the activation of this receptor seems to induce inflammation. This grant project aims to determine if growth factor inhibitors, such as those traditionally used in cancer treatment, could reduce that inflammation.
This is of particular importance given that for some individuals certain neurological symptoms can persist even after they are treated for Lyme disease using the typical recommended antibiotic regimen. Currently, there are no additional treatments to offer these patients, who are often in need of additional therapies to combat what is known as post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome. Parthasarathy’s grant project is pre-clinical, meaning that the therapy will be tested on tissue samples as opposed to live subjects. If successful, she hopes that this therapy will move on to animal model pre-clinical trials.
“There is not a lot of funding for new therapies to combat Lyme, so it’s wonderful to get support for this project and to be able to try new approaches that can help people return to health,” Parthasarathy said.
Lyme disease is the fastest-growing infectious disease in the nation, newly infecting approximately 300,000 individuals yearly — more than hepatitis, HIV, tuberculosis, West Nile and Zika virus combined. Lyme is acquired after a bite from an infected tick, and often causes severe and complicated health issues that are difficult to treat. Lyme is also difficult to diagnose, and many people with the infection suffer for years without knowing that Lyme is the cause of the deterioration in the health status. Approximately $1 million was raised at the LymeAid event this year, 100 percent of which will go directly to fund scientific research, education and prevention programs for Lyme disease.
Scientists predict the number of people suffering from a little-understood type of Lyme disease could spike to almost 2 million in 2020.
The most common vector-borne illness in the U.S., Lyme disease is caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium, which is spread by infected ticks. Sufferers can have a fever, headache, chills, fatigue, joint and muscle ache and swollen lymph nodes. In many cases, patients experience an erythema migrans rash that can grow up to 12 inches around the area of the tick bite. Around 329,000 cases are thought to occur each year, although the true number of infections is thought to be higher.
In most cases, doctors prescribe antibiotics and the symptoms pass. However, for others the symptoms can linger in what is known as post-treatment Lyme disease (PTLD) or post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome. The condition is characterized by cognitive dysfunction, incapacitating fatigue and chronic pain, according to the authors of a study published in the journal BMC Public Health.
The condition is poorly understood; there is no set diagnosis for it, and treatment is controversial, the authors wrote. The cause is unknown—some believe the bug can disrupt the immune system—and it can take months to recover. Past estimates suggest treatments fail in between 10 and 20 percent of cases, which could cost the U.S. economy up to $1 billion per year.
“Although antibiotic therapy cures most LD patients, a significant proportion of patients continue to suffer persisting symptoms that can derail normal life,” the researchers wrote.
It can therefore be tough to find accurate data on the prevalence of PTLD, and diagnosis can involve ruling out other health problems.
For their study, the scientists drew on several pools of data to create a model to estimate the number of PTLD cases that occurred between 2016 and 2020. That included data collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as past estimates of Lyme disease rates, survival rates and examples of treatments failing.
A conservative estimate made by the researchers suggested that 69,011 cases of PTLD occurred in 2016, which will rise to 81,509 cases in 2020. In another model, the researchers accounted for cases rising from the 1980s, combined with treatment failing in 20 percent of cases. The result was 1,523,869 cases in 2016 and 1,944,189 forecast for 2020.
The authors acknowledged that it remains unclear which is the most accurate estimation.
“Nevertheless, our findings suggest that there are large numbers of patients living with LD-related chronic illness,” they wrote. Further research is now needed to create tests to accurately diagnose and treat the condition, raise public awareness and arrive at a conclusive figure on the number of sufferers.
While ticks carrying the Lyme disease–causing bacteria can strike at any time of the year, April through September is the riskiest period. The CDC advises avoiding grassy, brushy or wooded areas where ticks can live and treating clothing with 0.5 percent permethrin products and Environmental Protection Agency–approved insect repellents before going into areas where the bugs might lurk.
The inaugural Lyme Gala 2018 was a moving evening, filled with touching stories and hope for a future without Lyme disease.
The event was a rousing success and we are thrilled to share we raised approximately $1.5 million! The proceeds from the gala benefit both Project Lyme and Bay Area Lyme Foundation’s critical education, awareness, science and research to end the Lyme disease epidemic!
Thank you to our honoree, Bill Ford, keynote speaker, Dr. Neil Spector, singer/songwriter, Dana Parish, The Janes, and the tireless efforts of our co-chairs, gala committee, advisory members, Board of Directors and everyone who attended this special night.
There is lots of exciting work ahead! We are excited to keep you updated regarding our upcoming plans, accomplishments and the impact your gala gift is making in the fight against Lyme. Until then, thank you so much to those who made Lyme Gala 2018 a success.