The Persistent Threat of Lyme Disease
Lyme disease, a tick-borne illness caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, is a pressing public health concern. With May being recognized annually as National Lyme Disease Awareness Month and it now being in June with tick-borne diseases skyrocketing, it is crucial to understand the disease’s complexity and the challenges faced by patients who experience persistent symptoms.
The Puzzle of Chronic Lyme Disease
A significant number of Lyme disease patients continue to experience debilitating symptoms long after the initial infection, with some patients having debilitating symptoms, chronic inflammation, and previously unexplained complications that last for weeks, months, and even years when no active infection can be detected. This puzzling phenomenon has been a central issue in Lyme disease research, and now, exciting progress has been made thanks to Dr. Brandon Jutras and the Jutras Lab at Virginia Tech.
The Groundbreaking Discovery: Peptidoglycan
Dr. Jutras, an associate professor of biochemistry, and his team have been granted over $2 million by the National Institutes of Health to investigate why symptoms of Lyme disease persist long after initial infection. The key to their research lies in a unique molecule called peptidoglycan. In 2019, Jutras discovered that this molecule, which is known to cause inflammation, is shed inside the infected by the Lyme disease-causing bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, and continues to persist even after the initial treatments.
The Impact of the Peptidoglycan Discovery
The discovery of peptidoglycan’s persistence in patients’ joints weeks and months after treatment is a significant milestone in Lyme disease research. The persistence of this molecule could be driving the continuous inflammation seen in patients with chronic Lyme disease symptoms. This research has been hailed as “the most clinically impactful research that has come out in the field in the last decade”.
The Future: Tracking Peptidoglycan in Real Time
While the cause of the peptidoglycan’s persistence is still under investigation, the Jutras Lab is now working on a way to track peptidoglycan in real time, a development that promises to bring significant improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease. One of Justras’ graduate students, Mecaila McClune, developed a fluorescent tracer system that could highlight the Peptidoglycan molecule as it moves in mice. They are also working on creating a rapid test for the disease.
The Promise for Chronic Lyme Patients
The study of peptidoglycan and its role in the persistence of Lyme disease symptoms opens a new pathway for understanding and treating chronic Lyme disease. By gaining a better understanding of the disease’s mechanisms, researchers can develop more effective treatments and diagnostic tools, offering hope to those suffering from this debilitating condition.