NIH Director Francis Collins Highlights Breakthrough Tick Test
Writing on his NIH Director’s Blog, Francis Collins, MD, highlights a breakthrough test for tick-borne diseases developed by researchers at the Mailman School’s Center for Infection and Immunity. The Tick-Borne Disease Serochip (TBD Serochip), whose development was funded by a grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is the first to screen for multiple tick-borne infections: It can simultaneously detect and distinguish among antibodies associated with Borrelia burgdorferi, the pathogen responsible for Lyme disease, and seven other tick-borne pathogens.
Crucially, the TBD Serochip, which was unveiled in a February 16 paper in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, can identify whether a person had been infected by more than one tick-borne pathogen. “That capacity is very important in real-world settings because an individual tick often carries more than one type of infectious agent and, in the case of deer ticks, as many as five!” Collins writes.
While tick-borne diseases have been on the rise over the past three decades, doctors’ ability to diagnose them has lagged. Currently, diagnosis of Lyme disease, the most common TBD, requires two separate tests. This cumbersome approach also relies on subjective criteria for the interpretation of results, and accurately identifies fewer than 40 percent of patients with early disease and results in false positives 28 percent of the time. The accuracy of the method used to diagnose TBDs Babesia, Anaplasma, Ehrlichia, and Rickettsia varies widely among testing laboratories. And for other tick-borne agents, specific blood tests are not yet available, or in the case of the potentially deadly Powassan virus or Heartland virus, are only performed in specialized laboratories.
Going forward, the research team, led by Rafal Torkarz and Nischay Mishra, will work to optimize the technology and conduct additional studies to determine its safety and efficacy so it may become available to patients.
“Diagnosing tick-borne illness is a difficult journey for patients, delaying effecting treatment,” said senior author W. Ian Lipkin, MD, director of CII and John Snow Professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School in a February statement. “The TBD Serochip promises to make diagnosis far easier, offering a single, accurate test for eight different TBDs. Early detection of infection enables rapid and appropriate treatment.”