research

Lyme Research Progresses

As a scientist with Lyme disease, the early years of my illness were distinguished by a frustrating lack of information in the published literature. I had to really dig to find relevant literature, and what literature there was seemed minimalistic, narrow, and or contradictory with either my own experience or other articles. The doctors most skilled at treating Lyme disease were (for the most part) not researchers, and the researchers were (for the most part) not listening to the patients or those doctors.

Skip forward a decade, and boy have things changed. While many of the researchers I mention were doing their research even in 2006, the body of work has grown in a satisfying and very extensive fashion. In addition, several Lyme specific funding agencies exist including the Bay Area Lyme Disease Foundation, the Lyme Disease Association, Lymedisease.org, and the Lyme Research Alliance, and the Dr. Paul Duray Research Fellowship Endowment, Inc. Not only are these agencies helping to fund critical research, but they are beginning to find ways to encourage new people to study Lyme disease. For example, Stanford Medical School has formed theLyme disease working group to study Lyme disease thanks to the work of the Stand4Lyme foundation

I want to highlight some of the people whose work is worth watching:

Dr. Eva Sapi, associate professor at the University of New Haven, was a biologist and cancer researcher who contracted Lyme disease in 2002. She eventually abandoned her cancer research to study Lyme disease. She has published about different strains of Borrelia’s in-vitro response to antibiotics (basic research that will eventually help to guide treatment); studied the role of Borrelia in Morgellon’s disease, studied the formation of biofilms by Borrelia, and most recently developed improved methods for cultivating Borrelia (again, critical basic research that will help with testing and proof that Borrelia was not just present in the past, which antibodies show, but is currently living in the body). She has also helped with first steps toward exploring whether or not Borrelia can be transmitted sexually (a question this blog also considers) by showing that Borrelia can be present in vaginal fluids and semen along with Ralph Stricker.

Dr. Raphael Stricker is an Internal Medicine specialist in private practice. His research experience originated in the 1980s, when he was an HIV researcher associated with the University of California School of Medicine. After a lengthy break, he started doing Lyme research in 2002, and has over 60 published articles on Lyme disease, co-infections, and Morgellons. Some of his articles are highly specific, dealing with topics such as musical hallucinations and optic neuritis. Others tackle critical issues such as the use of long-term antibiotics. Still others help to address the lyme wars head on, including his work on guidelines, the patient-reported impacts of Lyme disease on quality of life, gender bias in lyme disease, and sexual transmission.

Lorraine Johnson, J.D., M.B.A. is the executive director of the Lyme Disease Association (LDA), a lawyer, a blogger on Lyme policy, and an advocate for all of us. She regularly conducts surveys through LDA’s network of patients, along with the broader network of people on the state-by-state Lyme mailing lists. This group of patients represents primarily those with chronic Lyme disease. She often collaborates with Dr. Stricker and I have been lucky enough to co-author with her as well. Some of her works includes a review article on Chronic Lyme and an article on the severity of symptoms compared to other chronic diseases and a meta-analysis of cases demonstrating persistent infection post treatment.

Dr. Brian Fallon is a professor of Psychiatry in the Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons, where he directs the Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases Research Center, which I believe is one of the the first if not the first center associated with a major medical research university to explore issues relating to persistent symptoms and longer-term treatments (including a meta-analysis of 4 published studies which became famous during the recent case between the connecticut attorney general and the IDSA about their guidelines), including psychiatric manifestations of lyme, changes in the brain associated with persistent lyme symptoms. He is on the advisory board of the Lyme Disease Association, and his bio there nicely sums up more recent work of the center, not all of which I could find publications for, on topics such as identifying a more sensitive Lyme Western blot, identifying unique proteins associated with  Lyme encephalopathy (but not chronic fatigue syndrome or healthy controls), post-mortem studies of patients with chronic Lyme symptoms and identifying of biomarkers to help guide treatment recommendations.

 

Dr. Monica Embers (faculty at the Tulane National Primate Research Center, and one of several researchers funded by the Bay Area Lyme Disease Foundation), along with Dr. Barthold and others studied persistent infection using monkeys. This allowed them to study persistence in ways that are not possible in human patients. Lorraine Johnston summarizes the implications for treatment and explores why this study was published 12 years after a parallel study by Wormser (of humans) in her policy blog. Dr. Embers also studies a variety of other topics including how Borrelia evades the immune system, the impact of slow growth rates of Borrelia on its persistence in the presence of antibiotics and the history, pros and cons of vaccination strategies.

Dr. Alan MacDonald runs the Dr. Paul Durray Research Fellowship Endowment. He has worked on issues such as long term persistence, but some of his most unique and impactful work focuses on the impact of Borrelia on the brain, including work on Alzheimer’s disease and the possibility that associated plaques are actually caused by Borrelia; Dementia and the presence of spirochetesMS and its relationship to Lyme disease; and Borrelia biofilms.

I am certain that this is an incomplete list, and for example it does not touch on the set of people who have been instrumental in writing treatment guidelines, nor does it highlight most of the research on Lyme in animals who can get it (e.g., dogs), studies of how Lyme spreads in the ecosystem, and so on. That said, I encourage you to keep an eye on the work of these outstanding researchers. We are lucky to have them, and their work spans the gamut from test-tube studies to surveys of patients to field studies of treatments.

 

links, research, treatment

Strong Evidence of Lyme Persistence in Monkeys

A recent study (2012) proved the persistence of Bb (Lyme) in Rhesus Monkeys. The researchers waited 27 weeks after infection in their first experiment, which is all I’ll discuss here, and then tested with multiple methods. The Eliza declined in treated animals, which might be interpreted to say treatment worked. However, in fact, spirochetal DNA and RNA were both detectable in multiple treated animals (not all, but some). DNA and RNA means that Bb was both present and active/alive in some sense (being transcribed). Here’s a quote:

Continue reading “Strong Evidence of Lyme Persistence in Monkeys”

activism

Urgent need for donations

This was not my children’s lyme doc, but he is one of only a small number (2 or 3 that I know of) on the east coast who sees kids under 12, and a hero to many families with Lyme. Please help support him if you’re able. You can donate here. Even a small amount would make a difference, but he especially needs it by the end of the month:

Children’s Lyme disease network has a site to make online donations: http://www.indiegogo.com/JonesAppeal Continue reading “Urgent need for donations”

activism, research

How does all that misinformation online affect Lymies?

I have been working toward this for two years now, and I can finally talk about the work we’ve done with the help of many volunteers. My paper, “Competing Online Viewpoints and Models of Chronic Illness” will be published at the premier venue in my field, the 2011 conference on Computer Human Interaction. For those of you with a medical background, in my field, this is equivalent to a journal publication in impact. Needless to see, I’m very excited to have finally gotten the work to this point, and extremely grateful to all of my co-authors, who helped me with every aspect of the research and writing, and all of the lymies who helped us to collect the data on which the study is based. I could go on for a long time about the personal accomplishment this represents and what it means to me (and I may in another post), but what I want to do here is say a little about what we did.

I am not a doctor, and however much I would have liked to do so, I am not qualified to conduct research that can identify a cure or otherwise directly affect the medical experience of individuals with Lyme disease. Rather, my area of specialty is information technology, and how people interact with it. Because of this, my work focused on how people with Lyme disease use online information in the course of their illness. I specifically wanted to understand how people negotiate the competing viewpoints present online (consider the contrast between the IDSA/Mayo Clinic/CDC/Wikipedia style information and that found on websites such as CALDA and ILADS). I knew that I personally had encountered both sets of information when I was diagnosed, and as a result I ended up putting my trust in doctors who did not treat me correctly. In my study, I wanted to document what happened to others, and identify possible solutions to any problems we discovered. My next step will be to begin to implement these solutions.

So what did we find? We found many examples of people who grappled with the mix of information online. Surprisingly, the kind of information that people trusted seemed to be affected by their diagnosis experience/initial beliefs about Lyme disease: Continue reading “How does all that misinformation online affect Lymies?”

thoughts

IDSA fails the test

Editorial note: I posted the content below but forgot to discuss the implications. Here goes: The restrictive guidelines for diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease published by the IDSA (Infectious Disease Society of America)  have caused some doctors and insurance companies to restrict the treatment options available to patients. There is enough evidence that these guidelines are biased that the IDSA was prosecuted by the Attorney General of CT (a lyme-endemic state) on an anti-trust basis. In the end, they settled out of court and held hearings to reconsider the guidelines. As I explain below, the hearings did not lead to any major changes in the guidelines. This is bad news for Lyme patients. However, the hearing process itself was flawed and biased. Luckily, there is one crucial thing the hearing panel disagreed on — whether or not a Lyme diagnosis can be made clinically, even without clear test results. Since the tests are flawed, this would represent an important change for Lyme patients. It could help reduce the number of people who are diagnosed late and thus develop chronic Lyme, and allow those who’s Lyme is already chronic to be counted, get treated, and so on. As described below, even with regard to this issue, the panel recommended no immediate changes to the guidelines. However, it is still possible that the Attorney General will be able to push the IDSA in the right direction, and that at least that change will be made. Now back to my original post:

The IDSA posted its final report based on the hearings held last fall (videos available until about 1/2011). The report concludes that no changes are necessary to the current guidelines, though small modifications are suggestion on the next revision. This report, and the process that generated it, are currently being reviewed by the office of the Attorney General. I will be following the details on Lyme Policy Wonk as they unfold.

In the meantime, here are some flagrant examples of how entrenched the IDSA is: Continue reading “IDSA fails the test”

research, thoughts

New hope for Chronic Fatigue patients

When you live in the nether world of questioned diagnosis, you spend a lot of time wondering if perhaps those doctors who say the problem is in your head, your lifestyle, and your diet are right. In my case, I was lucky to have a variable enough illness that I was constantly reminded that I was not the cause — as soon as I felt better I did more, no matter how short a time it lasted. I never had to think about it, plan it, or convince myself to do so, I just DID.

Lyme disease patients at least have the existence of a known pathogen to hold onto when they fight the external discrimination, and associated internal questioning, that characterizes their disease. For those with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (known popularly as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), until this week, that did not exist. On October 8th, the journal Science published an article by Lombardi et al. titled “Detection of an Infectious Retrovirus, XMRV, in Blood Cells of Patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.” (also see this discussion by the author of Osler’s Web). Pamela Weintraub, in her blog Emerging Diseases reflects on the continued efforts of physicians and researchers to label diseases like Lyme disease and Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) as pyschiatric illnesses. This is a form of discrimination and institutionalized myopia that has systemic negative affects on patients. It stifles research, reduces access to treatment, and forces patients who are already fighting a difficult disease to also fight for respect. Perhaps worst of all, they must devote mental and physical energy to all of this, while simultaneously fighting the internal battles necessary to keep believing in themselves despite a lack of definitive anything and constant encounters with naysayers. Continue reading “New hope for Chronic Fatigue patients”