Technology used to detect COVID-19 brings hope for Lyme disease too
A study based in Pittsburgh could shed new light on how to prevent the long-term health consequences of Lyme disease.
By Sonu Babu and Ashlee Green
Photo: Erik Karits via Pexels
This year more than ever, Lyme disease has skyrocketed, and Pittsburgh is a hot spot for it. A new technology from Adaptive Biotechnologies*, though, brings hope for early detection.
According to an article in the Frederick News-Post, a survey of more than 5,000 adult blacklegged ticks statewide indicated that 58 percent were carrying Lyme disease. By mid-July of this year, WTAE reported that more than 40 children had been treated for severe and acute symptoms of Lyme at the UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh alone.
Dr. Shari Rozen, a doctor at Preferred Primary Care Physicians of Pittsburgh, is working with Adaptive Biotechnologies* on an investigational test taking place in the city as part of the ImmuneSense™ Lyme Study.
The key to detecting Lyme disease is understanding the immune system’s “first responders,” which are T-cells. T-cells can detect any virus. The investigational test aims to measure the body’s natural T-cell response to the bacteria that causes Lyme disease from a sample of blood. Starting earlier this year, T-cell tests have already been used as an alternative to antibody tests to detect past infections from COVID-19. According to STAT News, T-cells “help the body remember what its viral enemies look like.”
This new technology is exciting: According to a press release, existing lab tests only pinpoint about 20-40% of people experiencing early acute Lyme infections. Additionally, as Rozen explained, antibody tests are the current norm for detecting Lyme, but “antibodies don’t develop instantaneously, so there can be a delay in diagnosis…” The T-cell tests, on the other hand, could potentially work faster to improve the speed of diagnosis, thereby decreasing long-term health consequences, such as arthritis, facial palsy, and irregularities in heart rhythm. Early detection can help prevent more serious symptoms, which can happen easily if people miss a rash, or do not notice a tick because it is too small.
Lyme is a tick-borne disease; its classic symptom is a bullseye rash. It can be benign or cause more severe symptoms, but according to Rozen, it should always be taken seriously. While most patients who contract Lyme are successfully treated with antibiotics and feel completely better within weeks to months, Rozen said about one in 20 still experiences pain, fatigue, or difficulty thinking that lasts more than six months after finishing treatment.
“The best thing you can do is find the tick and remove it. Because if the tick is removed within the first couple of days before it becomes engorged, you don’t even have to treat it,” said Rozen. To date, the ImmuneSense™ Lyme Study has enrolled over 700 participants from across the nation. Patients who have a bullseye rash and would like to participate can directly reach out to the testing site at 412-650-6155. Learn more at ImmuneSenseStudy.com.
*Editor’s note 9/30/2021: The name of the company administering the new Lyme technology is Adaptive Biotechnologies, not Adaptive Biotechnology, as previously reported. We regret the error.