MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is funding a $1.9 million five-year project with researchers at West Virginia University to develop a Lyme disease vaccine.
The project is being led by Marietta Barbier, assistant professor in the School of Medicine’s Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Cell Biology. Assisting Barbier are Timothy Driscoll, assistant professor of biology in the Eberly College of Arts and Science; and Heath Damron, assistant professor and director of the WVU Vaccine Development Center.
Lyme disease is caused by tick bites, and more than 300,000 Americans get it each year. There is currently no vaccine available. Symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, chills, headache, rash and swollen lymph nodes. It is usually treated with antibiotics after it has been contracted.
“The tick population is increasing in the U.S. and the impact of Lyme disease is expanding over Appalachia, in particular West Virginia,” said Barbier, in a release. Barbier and her group are trying to develop a vaccine that would be protect against species of Borrelia, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease.
“When we design a vaccine, we usually aim for proteins that appear on the surface of whatever pathogen we want to vaccinate against,” Driscoll said, in a release. “In the case of Borrelia, certain of those proteins are required for the normal functioning of the bacteria. In vaccine development, what we try to do is identify those proteins and target them in hopes of clearing the pathogen out, killing it, essentially. If a protein is essential for survival, it makes it harder for the pathogen to change it and evade the immune system.”
If a vaccine is tested and deemed successful, the WVU Vaccine Development Center will work to get the vaccine through clinical trials.