Yale University scientists have developed a novel vaccine that offers protection against Lyme disease-causing bacteria and other tick-borne diseases. Using the same mRNA technology in COVID-19 vaccines, the vaccine has shown great promise in trials on guinea pigs. None of those treated with the vaccine developed Lyme disease.
Lyme disease is a growing threat, with almost half a million cases estimated in the USA each year. Rapid diagnosis and treatment with antibiotics can treat the condition, but scientists have been searching for an effective Lyme disease vaccine for years.
The new vaccine created by Yale scientists doesn’t generate an immune response to target pathogens; instead, it prompts a reaction in the skin when a tick tries to feed. In the study, researchers describe how the vaccine effectively limited the amount of time that ticks have to feed upon and infect the host. Less time latched on means less of a chance to infect the host.
The vaccine developed by Yale scientists analysed parts of mRNA that produce saliva proteins in the black-legged tick Ixodes scapularis that spreads Lyme disease. “When you feel a mosquito bite, you swat it. With the vaccine, there is redness and likely an itch so you can recognize that you have been bitten and can pull the tick off quickly, before it has the ability to transmit B. burgdorferi,” says Fikrig.
Researchers found that none of the guinea pigs that received the vaccine developed Lyme disease. However, 60% of the control group became infected. If three ticks continue to feed, there’s still a likelihood of infection, caution the researchers.
As well as reducing Lyme disease infection, the vaccine could reduce all tick-borne diseases, says Erol Fikrig, co-author of the paper and a professor at Yale University. “There are multiple tick-borne diseases, and this approach potentially offers more broad-based protection than a vaccine that targets a specific pathogen,” he said.
The new vaccine is the latest exciting candidate, with the Pfizer and Valneva VLA15 vaccine progressing through trials. Fikrig sees the two vaccines working together. “It could also be used in conjunction with more traditional, pathogen-based vaccines to increase their efficacy.”
While the vaccine has shown promising results, the trials are limited and extensive human trials would need to be undertaken before the vaccine could be used, say the authors.
If diagnosed early enough, most cases of Lyme disease can be treated with a course of antibiotics. Unfortunately, however, many people remain unaware of Lyme disease infection, which can cause them to develop long-term, life-limiting symptoms.
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You can read the full paper, mRNA vaccination induces tick resistance and prevents transmission of the Lyme disease agent, here.