CVM Researchers Develop Diagnostic Test for 11 Tick-Borne Diseases
Posted February 22, 2018
The warmer weather can mean many things for pet owners in Texas.
Chief among those should be ticks.
The domestic Brown Dog, Lone Star, Gulf Coast, and other ticks
are the cause of the thousands of tick-borne disease cases reported
annually in the United States.
Thanks to a diagnostic test created by researchers in the Texas
A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences
(CVM), veterinarians now have a tool that can detect 11 types of
tick-borne diseases, including the seven most common, in dogs.
Better, still, they can do so both earlier and
less expensively than ever before.
Dr. Maria Esteve-Gasent, an assistant professor in the CVM’s
Department of Veterinary Pathobiology (VTPB), and doctoral student
Joseph Modarelli, in collaboration with the Texas A&M
Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (TVMDL), developed the
tool, the TickPath LayerPlex, using a molecular technique that
allows the researchers to determine if causative agents from
tick-borne diseases are present in a dog.
“Instead of looking at whether the animal has been exposed to a
pathogen—when we would say that the dog may or may not have a
disease—we are saying, with this methodology, that the animal has
the pathogen—it has the bacteria—that is causing the disease,”
Esteve-Gasent said. “It's very specific; you're looking for the
pathogen itself, not for signs of exposure but of being
With the TickPath LayerPlex, a dog that exhibits symptoms of a
tick-borne disease can be taken to a veterinarian, who can submit
to the TVMDL a single blood sample taken during routine testing to
check for Lyme disease, relapsing fever, Ehrlichiosis, Rocky
Mountain spotted fever, and canine Babesia, and others.
“It's very novel because there's no other technique like this in
the veterinary field; it's something completely new that was not
possible until now,” said Esteve-Gasent. “We've been validating it
with thousands of samples to make sure that it's working, and it
has a 98 percent sensitivity specificity.”
Because the test can detect 11 different pathogens, it also is
more cost-effective for clients.
“We've asked five companies across the country how much they
charge and the cheapest for one pathogen, for one disease, was $80.
To test for one,” Esteve-Gasent said. “You would have to pay
hundreds of dollars to test for 11 diseases. Now, (with our test)
you might be paying $90, max.
“So, our test is very competitive,” she said. “And it's fast and
Unlike with other diagnostic tools, the TickPath LayerPlex also
more accurately determines the specific type of disease.
“A lot of veterinarians will submit blood for a cytology or
serology test,” she said. “For example, in the case of Lyme disease
and relapsing fever, the tests are not that easy to differentiate
them. Sometimes you can only say, ‘It was either one or the other.’
It's not clear cut.”
With the Texas A&M test, if a sample falls into the “gray
zone,” where the test can’t determine a positive or negative
result, “you either collect a sample a few weeks later, or, if the
veterinarian feels that the clinical signs correlate with the
disease you think it is, then treat it.”
“Either way, this test allows the veterinarian to provide a more
educated treatment when they see their patients,” Esteve-Gasent
Determining as quickly as possible if an animal has a tick-borne
disease, and what kind it may have, can be crucial for a pet.
“Most of these diseases, if you treat your dog early, the
animals recuperate, and they are nice and healthy and they live a
healthy life for many years,” Esteve-Gasent said. “But if you don't
diagnose them properly or early enough, then they're going to have
problems; they may have heart or joint problems, and you don't want
“Or, if the diagnostics are no good, by the time you get your
dog to the vet and they get the samples, they diagnose the disease,
and they confirm what it is, your dog may be dead. The problem that
we have right now is if a pet is infected with Rocky Mountain
spotted fever, the dog will die,” she said. “So, the sooner that
you test, the better, because all tick-borne diseases are
In addition, knowing the specific disease would allow the
veterinarian to track the animal’s progress.
“If you know exactly what the dog has, you can observe the
clinical signs much better,” Esteve-Gasent said. “If you start
antibiotic treatment and the veterinarian sees progress, they could
take a second sample later and see whether we still detect the
pathogens. Because it’s very, very, very sensitive, if the test
says it's clean, that animal is cleared."
The project, funded by Texas A&M AgriLife and the USDA
Agricultural Research Services, has been submitted for a
provisional patent, and once more sampling has been conducted to
further validate the test, a final patent will be submitted.
Veterinarians and dog owners can help with that process by
submitting ticks found on dogs to the TVMDL for testing.
For more information on submitting ticks to the TVMDL, visit https://tvmdl.tamu.edu.
For more information about the
Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical
Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu
or join us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Contact Information: Megan Palsa, Executive Director of
Communications, Media & Public Relations, Texas A&M College
of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science; firstname.lastname@example.org;
979-862-4216; 979-421-3121 (cell)
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