Story by Margaret Preigh
Dr. Artem Rogovskyy, an assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS), is a recipient of the Bay Area Lyme Foundation’s 2020 Emerging Leader Award for his interdisciplinary work in developing a rapid, highly sensitive, portable, cost-effective, and single sample-based Lyme disease (LD) diagnostic assay.
LD is a tick-borne illness caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. The most common vector-borne disease in the United States, it affects roughly 329,000 Americans annually. Mild cases produce a “bull’s-eye” rash, fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes, while more advanced cases can cause more serious symptoms, such as severe joint pain and neurological problems.
Management of LD is heavily reliant on timely diagnosis and treatment, which means accurate and accessible testing is instrumental to preventing persistent, treatment-resistant infections.
In the U.S., the only validated approach for LD diagnosis is a two-tiered serology. These tests have drawbacks, including that the sensitivity and specificity of these tests vary greatly, dependent of the stage of infection.
Furthermore, existing tests have cross-reactivity with other pathogens, meaning they may yield an LD-positive result when the patient is actually harboring a different bacterium. These existing tests also have low sensitivity during the first weeks of infection, where the patient is still developing antibodies.
In this case, a patient in the early stages of LD would falsely test negative.
The 2020 Emerging Leader Award grants Rogovskyy and his collaborator access to the Lyme Disease Biobank, which will allow these researchers to validate their approach in human specimens.
“There is clearly an urgent need in the development of reliable direct-detection method, whose performance should be better than that of the existing two-tier serological assay,” said Rogovskyy.
“Our proposal is conceptually innovative and is not based on incremental advance because there is no precedent of utilizing this approach in the diagnosis of human or animal infectious diseases in the published literature,” Rogovskyy said. “This proposal is also unique as it is based on multidisciplinary expertise of a spirochetologist and a biophysicist/biochemist.”
Rogovskyy and his colleagues aim to overturn the current paradigm of LD testing by using a spectroscopic technique to determine the presence of this pathogen. By measuring the spectra produced, the researchers were able to detect LD-positive mice with high accuracy in their preliminary experiments.
“Our preliminary results demonstrated that the approach can well distinguish between infected and uninfected mice,” he said. “Moreover, the approach showed a great potential not only for detecting LD pathogen in blood but also identifying the stage of a Borrelia burgdorferi infection (early vs. late).”
The novel assay will not only democratize LD testing by making it faster and cheaper, but this more accurate test will also allow health workers to better track and treat this highly common disease.
More timely diagnosis of LD is instrumental to preventing chronic, treatment-resistant LD cases, and Rogovskyy’s research aims to provide a diagnostic that supports this higher standard of care, which is made possible through the support of the Bay Area Lyme Foundation and Emerging Leader Award.
The Bay Area Lyme Foundation works to accelerate this type of research by recognizing new approaches and creative thinking; its Emerging Leader Awards are presented annually to promising scientists who represent the future of LD research leadership.
“I am truly honored to have received this prestigious ELA award from the Bay Area Lyme Foundation. I know it is quite competitive and our team will do the best to achieve what has been proposed,” he said.
“On behalf of our team, I would like to thank the Bay Area Lyme Foundation for funding our risky but promising project. It is great that such a foundation exists as there are very few funding agencies that fund Lyme disease research,” he said. “We are also thankful to the Lyme Disease Biobank, the unique repository of Lyme disease samples. The biobank has provided us with human blood samples, which will allow us to objectively test the utility of our new approach.”
Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of CVM Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; firstname.lastname@example.org; 979-862-4216