The discovery by a Virginia Tech biochemist of a cellular cause of Lyme disease opens a window that could lead to prevention.
According to a study published Monday by Brandon Jutras, Lyme arthritis, a painful disease constituting a symptom of advanced stage disease, is due in part to a cell molecule called peptidoglycan released by the bacteria that causes Lyme disease .
Lyme disease is a bacterial disease discovered in 1975 in New England and has since spread throughout the country. In its infancy, it causes flu-like symptoms, although conditions such as Lyme arthritis persist. The diagnosis of Lyme arthritis has been difficult in the past. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the effects of the disease will often persist without the presence of the Lyme disease bacteria after it has been treated with antibiotics.
The Jutras study published Monday in the journal "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" could be a key to the diagnosis and treatment of persistent disease.
"This is an important discovery and we believe that it has major implications for many manifestations of Lyme disease, and not just for Lyme arthritis," he said. declared Jutras.
He and his collaborators have discovered that the bacterium that causes Lyme disease is multiplying, releasing the peptidoglycan molecule, which infiltrates into people's joints. Some patients then have a reaction to antibodies that causes swelling of the joints, especially knees.
Lyme arthritis can often be treated with antibiotics, but sometimes it persists. Doctors often have to treat the symptoms rather than the cause, which is not ideal, Jutras said.
The next step that Jutras begins to study in mice is to find ways to diagnose Lyme arthritis and completely prevent the disease. His most recent discovery offers a window to this, he said.
"We are working to find a way to target the molecule and destroy it," said Jutras.
It also examines other molecules that might bind to peptidoglycan, which would then prevent people's bodies from having a negative response.
Research on Lyme disease is extremely important as it spreads to Virginia and the country, Jutras said.
In 2017, the latest year for which data are available, Virginia has reported more than 1,000 confirmed cases of tick-borne disease, according to the Center for Disease Control. Officials estimate that the actual number of cases is probably 10 times higher.
It's too early in the season to know the incidence rate of Lyme disease for this year, according to Larry Hill, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Health. However, the Roanoke and New River Valle valleys generally have a much higher incidence of Lyme disease than other parts of Virginia. Ticks should be monitored.