Lyme and Tick-borne Diseases Research Center Opens at Columbia University Medical Center

The Lyme & Tick-borne Diseases Research Center at ColumbiaUniversityMedicalCenter has opened its doors, making it the first in the country to focus on unraveling the complexities of these illnesses and offering hope to the thousands who struggle with them. Brian A. Fallon, MD, MPH, associate professor at ColumbiaUniversityMedicalCenter and director of the Lyme Disease Research Program at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, will serve as general director.

The center will make one of the first goals the development of an accurate diagnostic test. The center will use the latest in molecular genetics and proteomics to identify better diagnostic tests; it will conduct clinical research to evaluate new treatments and identify biomarkers that will better direct treatment; it will work to educate medical students and physicians on evaluating and treating Lyme disease and tick-borne diseases and it will support research projects internationally to help speed the scientific process of ultimately finding a cure for these diseases.

Other areas of concentration will include the presence of co-morbid infections in ticks and co-morbid diseases in chronically ill patients; improved understanding of the patho-physiologic mechanism of disease, particularly as it relates to chronic Lyme disease; genetic studies to identify vulnerability factors within families; neuroimaging to better understand the brain mechanisms of disease; treatment trials to examine the efficacy of a wide range of therapeutic interventions, and further study of the neurologic and neuron-psychiatric manifestations of Lyme disease.

The official establishment of the Lyme & Tick-Borne Disease Research Center at ColumbiaUniversity could not come at a better time, notes Debbie Siciliano, co-president and founder of Time for Lyme, Inc., a research, education and advocacy group headquartered in Greenwich, Conn.  At a time when Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses are becoming more prevalent, with 49 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia reporting cases, some treatment guidelines are marginalizing our efforts to understand, diagnose, treat and cure this disease, Siciliano adds, referring to the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) guideline.

By reaching our fundraising goal of $3 million to open the center, Time for Lyme and the Lyme Disease Associations achievement now enables a major research thrust to take place. Those IDSA guideline threaten scientific progress and undermine the biggest medical issues of our time. The good news is that researchers at Columbia are stepping up to the plate and it is time take a leap forward for research, adds Siciliano.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 23,000 cases of Lyme disease are diagnosed each year in the U.S. However, the CDC agrees that its own estimates are low, and Lyme experts believe the actual number of new cases each year exceed 230,000. Not only does controversy exist about the guidelines, but also the number of cases reported.  Part of the problem is getting states to count cases in a uniform manner.  No one really knows the true incidence of Lyme disease.

Fallon notes, The current controversy underscores our crucial need for the Lyme & Tick-Borne Diseases Research Center at Columbia, and for the more definitive research on Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses we will conduct here particularly in their chronic stages. He and many other Lyme specialists believe chronic Lyme disease causes serious long-term effects from cardiovascular and lung problems to neurological deficiencies and joint disorders in 10 percent to 25 percent of all Lyme disease patients.

The center will establish an integrative research program with state of the art and visionary research. Fallon explains, Because the center will focus on basic science and clinical research, we will have the ability to connect the diagnostic questions and treatment issues that have puzzled the medical community for decades with the scientists who have access to the powerful biotechnological tools that are transforming modern medicine. Its the questions that emerge from working with individuals and subgroups of patients with Lyme disease that will play a key role in shaping the direction of laboratory studies, he concludes.

Siciliano notes that, while the generosity of donors enabled her organization to help endow the Lyme & Tick-Borne Diseases Research Center at Columbia, their job is far from over. We are mindful that now the real work begins. With research programs targeting better diagnostics and, ultimately, a cure, we envision speedy progress to help eradicate Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses, Siciliano explains.

Source: Time for Lyme and the Lyme Disease Association

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