The late recognition of Lyme disease, and continued underestimating of case numbers in both Europe and the US, has meant that little Lyme disease research has been carried out since its initial classification in the 1980s. The difficult nature of the condition makes it particularly hard to research and a quite unattractive project for scientists looking for clear results and success in their particular field. The poor rates of accuracy for Lyme disease tests has also caused problems in recruiting sufficient eligible volunteers for clinical trials or studies, and there are obvious ethical issues in deliberately infecting both humans and animals with this disease. In spite of this, there have been many animal tests in the last three decades although the applicability to humans of animal research is questionable considering the differences in immune system function, gestation, metabolism, and drug-processing.
Who Does Lyme Disease Research?
Two National Institutes of Health research trials into Lyme disease had to be cancelled after failure to recruit sufficient patients matching the clinical diagnostic requirements for the infection as given by the Centers for Disease Control. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has a responsibility to research conditions such as Lyme disease and it was the NIAID’s research into the Lyme disease outbreak in Connecticut that led to Borrelia burgdorferi being identified as the causative agent of Lyme in 1982. The NIAID’s Lyme Disease Research Program is tasked with identifying better methods of diagnosing, treating, and preventing the condition and, to this end, undertakes a variety of activities.
What is Lyme Disease Research?
Animal models of disease are often used in Lyme disease research, along with research into microbial physiology, investigations of molecular, genetic, and cellular pathogenic mechanisms, antibiotic safety and efficacy against Lyme disease, and the development of better tests for all stages of Lyme disease. The organization also looks at the vectors involved in Lyme disease transmission including organism-specific mechanisms that influence the virulence and capacity for Lyme bacteria to infect humans. There are NIAID laboratories in Hamilton, Montana, and in Bethesda, Marlyand and ongoing collaboration with other research scientists around the world.
Main areas of Lyme disease research are transmission, diagnosis, co-infections, antibiotic treatment, other types of treatment, autoimmune dysfunction and Lyme disease, and the development of Lyme disease vaccines. Columbia University, along with the Lyme Disease Research Foundation of Maryland are looking into the epidemiology of Lyme disease, along with development of diagnostic tools. Private biotechnology companies also have an interest in Lyme disease research as they may find tests for Lyme disease profitable as the incidence of the disease appears to be rising fast. One such company is SeraCare Life Sciences who, along with BioSpecialties Corporation, are actually compensating patients with Lyme disease who donate blood samples for use in new test development.
Complexities of Lyme Disease Research
That private companies are able to profit from infections such as Lyme disease is a cause for concern amongst health advocates. A change in the law that took place in the 1980s meant that researchers in the US were allowed to patent live organisms including bacteria such as Borrelia. This led to intense competition amongst researchers rather than an atmosphere of collaboration, a situation which has persisted in many circles and contributing to problems in appreciating the wider context of Lyme disease given the incomplete data available.
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