Garth Ehrlich and his research team at Drexel's College of Medicine are collecting various species of ticks (like these deer ticks mailed to the lab) in an effort to map which types are spreading disease, and where.
Pennsylvania has a tick problem. The state leads the nation in confirmed cases of tick-borne Lyme disease, according to the latest data available from the PA Department of Health.
Significant challenges diagnosing and treating Lyme persist, making the disease a major public health problem, says Garth Ehrlich, PhD, professor in the Departments of Microbiology & Immunology and Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Drexel University College of Medicine, and executive director of Drexel’s Center for Advanced Microbial Processing and the Center for Genomic Sciences.
Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected deer tick. When caught early, Lyme can usually be treated with antibiotics. But left untreated, the acute infection can develop into a chronic illness, affecting the joints, heart and nervous system. Depending on the strain of bacteria that a patient contracts, B. burgdorferi may also form a protective biofilm that is resistant to standard treatment.
“It is very difficult to diagnose the disease, and we don’t have ideal ways to treat people with chronic Lyme. There have been few, if any, clinical trials for identifying new diagnostics or testing new drugs have been conducted in the last decade,” Ehrlich said.
To address this gap in knowledge, Drexel University College of Medicine is teaming up with the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS) and the PA Lyme Resource Network (PALRN) to host a two-day medical conference April 6 and 7 in Hershey, Pennsylvania, called “New Frontiers in Lyme and Related Tick-Borne Diseases.”
“This conference will bring together physicians, advocates and researchers to provide a broader view of tick-borne diseases, including research updates, a review of critical challenges, diagnostics and treatments,” said PA Lyme President Julia Wagner. “We hope this will catalyze more options for patients living with these often debilitating diseases.”
Ehrlich’s lab is collecting ticks from all over the United States and using genetic sequencing techniques to identify which ticks are spreading disease, the various diseases they are transmitting and where they are located.
“People refer to ticks as ‘sewers’ — they carry many different types of bacteria and diseases other than just Lyme,” he said. “We are doing a geo-epidemiology study to look at the patterns of different infections in different regions. This may help tell patients and physicians the different infections that they should be looking for in their patients.”
Ehrlich and his colleagues at Drexel are also in the early stages of investigating an anti-biofilm drug to treat chronic Lyme.
“New Frontiers in Lyme and Related Tick-Borne Diseases” starts on Friday, April 6 with dinner and CME speakers. Saturday, April 7, includes a full slate of scientific presentations plus panel discussions. The speakers include nine of the country’s top Lyme disease researchers and clinicians.
In addition to Drexel’s Ehrlich, speakers include:
• Sam T. Donta, MD, consultant at Falmouth Hospital, Massachusetts; formerly in private practice, where he studied and treated patients with chronic Lyme disease and other multi-symptom disorders, such as chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia; author of more than 100 publications on toxins, Lyme disease and Gulf War Illness; recently appointed to the 21st Century Cures Act's Tick-borne Disease Working Group
• Robert C. Bransfield, MD, clinical associate professor at Rutgers-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School; past president of the New Jersey Psychiatric Association, ILADS and the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Educational Foundation
• Elizabeth L. Maloney, MD, family physician; founder and president of Partnership for Tick-borne Diseases Education, a nonprofit organization providing educational programs and materials on tick-borne diseases for medical professionals and the general public
• B. Robert Mozayeni, MD, private practice specializing in translational medicine; founder and executive director of the Translational Medicine Group; director of biomedical research for the non-profit Think Lead Innovate Foundation; chief medical officer of Galaxy Diagnostics, LLC; co-founder of the Foundation for the Study of Inflammatory Diseases
• Joseph A. Annibali, MD, chief psychiatrist at Amen Clinics in Washington, D.C.; author of “Reclaim Your Brain — How to Calm Your Thoughts, Heal Your Mind, and Bring Your Life Back Under Control”
• Rosalie Greenberg, MD, board certified child and adolescent psychiatrist in private practice; former assistant professor in clinical psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York; author of “Bipolar Kids: Helping Your Child Find Calm in the Mood Storm”
Additional details and registration available at www.ILADS.org. CME credit is available.