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UTHSC Assoc. Professor Leads Research that Develops New Technology for Faster Diagnosis of Early Lyme Disease

Maria Gomes-Solecki, DVM

A research team led by Maria Gomes-Solecki, DVM, an associate professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology & Biochemistry at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, in collaboration with Sam Sia, PhD, a professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Columbia University, has developed technology that could result in a new point-of-care diagnostic test for early stage Lyme disease.

The team reported its findings in a paper published online in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology.

Dr. Gomes-Solecki has focused her research on Lyme disease for roughly two decades. She has developed an oral vaccine to immunize the animal carriers of Borrelia burgdorferi. This bacteria is the source of the disease, which is then transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected deer tick. Her latest work stands to improve diagnostics for Lyme disease, which currently involve expensive multistep laboratory testing that is not useful in detecting the disease in early stages.

The team, which began working on this project in 2010, developed antigens and a computation algorithm sensitive enough to diagnose the disease in its early stage, she said. Antigens bind with antibodies, indicating presence of the disease.

“We started working on antigen development for diagnostic assays at the same time I was working on the vaccine,” she said. “Most of the antigens we screen as vaccine candidates can be used for diagnostics, so I developed them side by side.”

The incidence of Lyme disease is spreading in this country. For that reason, the possibility of improving diagnostic tools for the disease is critical. This is particularly true for certain areas of the country, primarily in the Northeast, where the disease is endemic.

“These results open the door for the development of a single, rapid, multiplexed diagnostic test for point-of-care use that can be designed to identify Lyme disease stage,” the paper said, referring to the early or late stages of the disease. The work was supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health.

“We’ve achieved sensitivity that is considerably higher for early Lyme disease than the current approach,” Dr. Gomes-Solecki said. “For this to head to market, we still need to engage with the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) to find out what testing is needed for approval.”