Author Message

I am glad to see they are working with the Lone Star ticks in Texas.  Being in
Oklahoma I am sure my Lyme was caused by the Lone Star tick.  :(  Dumb Oklahoma
is too busy trying to convince everyone Lyme is a rare disease and not likely
in Oklahoma.  


From the University of North Texas Health Science Center
Ft. Worth, Texas

Publication: Health & Science Quarterly
Publication Year: 2003
Publication Issue: Summer


Hiding behind the reputation of its more famous cousin Borrelia
burgdorferi, the spirochete Borrelia lonestarihas escaped the notice
of researchers who study tick-borne illnesses. Until recently, that

Scientists at UNT Health Science Center have turned their attention
to B. lonestari, which infects Lone Star ticks, and are developing a
test to unmask its secrets.

For years, the scientific community has focused on B. burgdorferi,
the pathogen known to cause Lyme disease, and its host, the deer
tick. However, B. lonestari is now thought to cause a mysterious
malady with Lyme-like symptoms that does not yield positive results
with current Lyme diagnostic tests. If left untreated, either
infection can lead to more serious ailments, including arthritis,
nerve damage, heart problems and death.

"Nothing is known about this pathogen carried by the Lone Star tick;
it hasn't been cultured, has rarely had its DNA sequenced, and has
never connected scientifically to the Lyme-like symptoms we suspect
it of causing," said Phillip Williamson, PhD, a specialist in
molecular genetics research and head of the Lyme Disease Laboratory
at the health science center. "We're changing all that."

Dr. Williamson is leading a team of researchers who are studying the
Lone Star tick to find out more about the pathogen it carries, B.

"Under the microscope, the spirochetes look the same, but they're
very different genetically," Dr. Williamson said. These genetic
differences form the basis of the health science center's screening
test for the pathogen.

In 1994, the Texas Department of Health collected more than 28,000
ticks throughout the state. They found that nearly 95 percent of them
were Lone Star ticks. "This survey and our preliminary data indicate
that Lone Star ticks should be viewed as a potential health risk to
Texans," Dr. Williamson said.

The Senate Committee on Administration, chaired by state Sen. Chris
Harris, issued an interim report on the prevalence of tick-borne
illnesses in Texas in 2000. This report recommended that the state
develop a comprehensive diagnostic laboratory to facilitate the
creation of a precise and effective diagnostic test for Lyme and
other tick-borne diseases. In 2001, the Texas legislature acted on
the recommendations and established the laboratory at UNT Health
Science Center.

Over the past 18 months, the team has been setting up the lab,
collecting specimens and establishing partnerships to further its
research and help develop the diagnostic test.

Health science center researchers are collaborating with scientists
at the Tick-Borne Disease Laboratory at the U.S. Army Center for
Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine at Aberdeen Proving Ground
in Maryland to analyze samples from any soldiers who are bitten by a
tick. The Army provides the ticks, and the health science center
performs DNA sequencing on the samples.

"We need the tick in order to find the pathogen it carries," Dr.
Williamson said. "We now have a constant source of samples from
diverse geographic locations."

Results are submitted to GenBank, the DNA sequence repository at the
National Institutes of Health. "GenBank contains the DNA sequences
for any species," Dr. Williamson said. "We use it to double-check the
quality of our sequences and to identify known genetic differences
within the species."

Since its discovery, only 17 B. lonestari sequences have been
published in GenBank. These sequences offer limited insight since
many of them were obtained by generating multiple sequences from a
single tick sample or a group of samples collected in the same area.
When Dr. Williamson and Army entomologist Ellen Stromdahl, PhD,
publish their sequences later this year, they will add 67 unique
sequences to the database, and they are currently preparing another

"We're not only increasing the number of sequences five-fold, but our
samples come from 11 different states," Dr. Williamson
said. "Although some may think this species is named after the Lone
Star State, we're documenting that it's a common parasite from the
south-central United States to New England and the entire east coast.
We've also shown that the species does not vary much, so a single
test should work for ticks found in other parts of the country."

With little intra-specie variation, researchers can focus their
efforts on developing a genetic test that quickly identifies specific
species of pathogens and differentiates them from their cousins.

"Our goal is detecting Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses
quickly and accurately," Dr. Williamson said. "We've developed a very
specific test for B. lonestari that will allow us to find out how
prevalent this pathogen really is in Texas."

In the past year, health science center researchers have demonstrated
that the tick is infected with the pathogen suspected of causing
Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness, a disease with Lyme-like
symptoms. Currently, they are trying to demonstrate that these ticks
actually transmit the disease to humans.

"We've accumulated a tremendous amount of information on the
organism, and we've used that information to make our test better,"
Dr. Williamson said. "Now we need more clinical samples from recently
infected people to demonstrate that the test has a clinical
application and not just a scientific one."

Dr. Williamson, an assistant professor of pathology and anatomy, is
also working with faculty from the health science center's School of
Public Health and the biological sciences department at the
University of North Texas in Denton to expand the scope of his
research. The team is waiting to hear about possible NIH funding that
would allow them to conduct a survey of the tick population in north

They plan to begin the project this winter by sending a questionnaire
to physicians and veterinarians in an 11-county area surrounding
Dallas and Fort Worth. Sam Atkinson, PhD, chair and professor, and
Terry Gratton, DrPH, assistant professor, both of environmental and
occupational health in the School of Public Health, will combine the
results with a geographic information system (GIS) to pinpoint
habitats where ticks infected with B. lonestari have been found.

UNT researchers will then collect samples from animals in those
habitats, and Dr. Williamson would do full genetic analysis on those

"The process soon becomes a cycle where we use the samples to update
the GIS model and use the GIS model to identify places to collect
more samples," Dr. Williamson said. "We estimate that we'll analyze
more than 10,000 samples over two years."

The team would use the information they collect to influence public
health policy and develop programs to educate and inform the public
about the risks associated with tick bites.

Once it develops a test for Lyme disease and other tick-borne
illnesses, the lab will expand its genetics research into other
areas. "We're developing our test to be flexible so that we can
quickly adapt it to identify other pathogens to help with other
emerging infectious diseases," Dr. Williamson said.


This story appeared in Health & Science Quarterly, a publication of
the Office of Marketing & Communications at UNT Health Science Center
in Fort Worth. To subscribe or update your mailing information, click

The University of North Texas Health Science Center is composed of
the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, the School of Public
Health and the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. The center's
six Institutes for Discovery conduct leading-edge research on select
health issues, including aging, cancer, heart disease, vision,
physical medicine and public health. A 100-member physician group
practice, the Physicians & Surgeons Medical Group, manages more than
197,000 Fort Worth-area patient visits each year. The institution
injects some $244.3 million into Tarrant County and Texas' economies

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Sun, 29 Jan 2006 03:12:44 GMT
 [ 1 post ] 

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