A New Look At Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is a well-known infection caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, typically communicated via a tick bite. Patients who suffer from Lyme disease frequently show symptoms such as a fever, headache, fatigue, and a uniquely characteristic rash called an erythema migrans that looks very much like a red target on the skin. Without treatment, Lyme disease can cause significant debilitating effects to the nervous system, resulting in numbness, impaired muscle movement, and temporary paralysis of the face, commonly referred to as Bell’s palsy.
If caught early, Lyme disease can be treated using common antibiotics in as little as two to three weeks. However, some patients experience symptoms such as fatigue, muscle pain, and cognitive impairment after treatment. Patients who suffer from such prolonged symptoms have what is referred to as Post Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS). While there exist treatments for Lyme disease, there are no effective therapies for PTLDS.
Northeastern spinout Flightpath Biosciences have combined their business acumen with clinical research from University Distinguished Professor Kim Lewis and his lab with the goal of developing new therapies capable of providing relief to patients suffering from both Lyme disease and PTLDS.
However, there is some controversy surrounding PTLDS. “The medical profession, in general, doesn’t believe that PTLDS exists,” says Lewis. “If you ask an average doctor, they will tell you that such symptoms as fatigue, foggy mind, muscle pain, etc., happen in the general population.”
Despite doubts expressed by some medical professionals, Lewis and his team discovered a unique PTLDS signature in individuals experiencing symptoms when compared to healthy patients in a study conducted with a cohort of PTLDS patients from John Hopkins Medical School. “[The signature], for the first time, gives an objective measure that these [patients] are different, and they have an aberrant microbiome,” says Lewis. Currently, Lewis and his lab are researching several novel therapies that aim to remedy PTLDS, both from the outset of Lyme Disease and in the wake of popular antibiotic treatments.
The problem with antibiotics like Doxycycline that are used to treat Lyme Disease currently is that they have the potential to harm the patient’s microbiome, especially in children. This can lead to continued health problems after the disease has been treated, including poor development of the immune system.
Rather than reacting to the development of PTLDS after treatment, Lewis and his team are pursuing treatments based on two known compounds: disulphiram, a drug used to treat alcoholism, and Hygromycin-A. The team found that both compounds selectively kill Borrelia burgdorferi. By preserving the microbiome of the patient when treating Lyme Disease, Lewis and his team hope to prevent PTLDS before it has the chance to develop.
For those patients who have already been treated for Lyme Disease, such preventative therapies are not an option; there needs to be a way to help those that are already suffering from PTLDS. Lewis and his team are researching a consortium of symbionts that will hopefully fix the aberration in the microbiome caused by existing antibiotic treatments.
This two-armed approach to treating PTLDS provides hope for those that might contract Lyme disease in the future and those that have already recovered and still suffer from lingering symptoms, providing full coverage across all potential patients. There is still work to be done before these treatments come to market as is necessary for any therapy, but Lewis believes that results from research conducted thus far are very promising.
Written by Joseph Burns
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Feature Image – Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University.
Image 1 – Photo by Brooks Canaday/Northeastern University.
Image 2 – Photo by Northeastern University.
Image 3 – Photo by Brooks Canaday/Northeastern University.