NAU joins battle against Lyme disease


NAU is part of a project with the goal of creating an accurate diagnostic test for Lyme disease, the most common vector-borne illness in the United States.

NAU researchers, led by Paul Keim, Regents’ professor and director of TGen-North, will use targeted DNA sequencing to develop and validate the test, measuring the presence and severity of Lyme disease at the genomic level.

Current testing methods regularly miss the presence of Lyme bacteria or get false positives from bacteria that resemble Lyme.

“With recent advances at TGen and genomics overall, we can finally develop a diagnostic test that will put more actionable information into the hands of the physician than previously possible,” Keim said.

Lyme disease affects an estimated 300,000 people each year. The bacterium that causes Lyme disease occurs naturally in mice, squirrels and other small animals. The infection spreads as ticks feed on animals and then bite humans.

The infections can manifest as a rash, flu-like symptoms, fever, headache and body aches. Undiagnosed and untreated cases can lead to fatigue, memory loss, insomnia, heart palpitations, difficulty with concentration and other changes, complicating a clinical diagnosis.

By analyzing DNA, the new test should be able to pinpoint Lyme disease and identify specific strains.

The project is part of an initiative called Focus on Lyme, sponsored by the Leadership Children’s Foundation of Gilbert, Ariz., which provided $75,000 to fund TGen’s research.

“We chose to partner with TGen because they have the best and most experienced pathogen researchers in the world,” said Tammy Crawford, executive director of Focus On Lyme. “TGen has a proven record of success. I am convinced there is no one more qualified to develop an improved diagnostic test for Lyme disease.”

Focus on Lyme organizers are planning a fundraising event in February for the next phase of the project, including clinical trials of the diagnostic test.