Improved Diagnostic Tools and Structural Vaccines for Lyme Disease
The microbial organism Borrelia burgdorferi causes the common infection termed Lyme disease. This infection is transferred to humans by deer ticks and is common in areas of North America and other countries where large deer populations are found. In the U.S., the CDC has estimated that up to 476,000 cases of Lyme disease were diagnosed in 2019, although less than 10% that number are reported to CDC. Borrelia infections, which are on the rise the last decade, are highly morbid if not diagnosed early. However, there are no vaccines as yet to protect against Borrelia infection, despite renewed recent interest followed market withdrawal of an initial vaccine generated by GSK in the 1990s. Furthermore, current blood tests to diagnose infections rely on few antigenic proteins encoded by the Borrelia genome, such that misdiagnosis occurs with some frequency.
Using genetic-based computational and structural approaches, Lankenau Institute for Medical Research researcher Sunil Thomas has defined antigenic peptide epitopes encoded by the Borrelia genome that offer superior utility for applications to diagnose and prevent infections. Specifically, these epitopes offer accurate and sensitive tools for diagnostic blood tests. Further, they define the basis for a multivalent structural vaccine that can effectively generate the potent immunity desired to prevent or clear Borrelia infections. These peptides are not derived from the Borrelia gene encoding the outer membrane protein OspA, which has been controversial as a vaccine target. As such, they offer novel agents to create an effective vaccine.