"Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses are a growing public health threat, yet little work is being done to understand the complexities posed by these potentially serious diseases," said Catherine F. Morrissey, NRFTD research board chair. "Our program is an expedited funding initiative designed to support cutting edge research with the greatest potential to advance scientific discovery." Grant winners are selected following a rigorous peer-review process by the NRFTD's distinguished Scientific Advisory Board using guidelines akin to those established by the National Institutes of Health. In addition
to selecting projects that adhere to the highest standards of quality, the likelihood that a project's results will lead to additional long-term funding by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation or other scientific or biomedical agencies is strongly considered. "The winning grants promise to provide important scientific information as well as jumpstart even bigger studies," Morrissey noted.
Dr. Wayne Hynes of
Also studying Lyme disease will be Dr. Brian Stevenson of the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, who will investigate how antigenic variation in Borrelia burgdorferi's surface membranes enables persistent infection in animal hosts. Bacteria from the Borrelia genus are capable of varying their outer surface proteins to avoid destruction by animal immune systems. This process has been noted in Borrelia hermsii, an agent of relapsing fever, which contains a protein known as Vmp (variable major protein). In Borrelia burgdorferi, the variable antigenic protein is called VlsE ((Vmp-like sequence, expressed) and it is believed to play a crucial role in B.burgdorferi's ability to survive in animals. Throughout mammalian infection, the DNA sequence of B. burgdorferi's vlsE gene changes constantly as the pathogen "reshuffles" its surface proteins; identifying the mechanism by which this occurs could lead to important novel therapies in the treatment of Lyme disease.
Another important, potentially fatal tick-transmitted disease is human granulocytic anaplasmosis (HGA), caused by a bacterium called Anaplasma phagocytophilum. This organism will be studied by Dr. Jason Carlyon, also of the
The final grant recipient is Dr. Patricia Holman from Texas A&M University's
parasite and investigate the interaction between one of its surface antigens, called "apical membrane 1" (AMA-1) and human red blood cells. This work will aid in designing drug therapies and vaccines by providing a target for interrupting the invasion process.
Source: National Research Fund for Tick-Borne Diseases, Inc.