Saturday, February 14, 2015

New research targets Borrelia burgdorferi nutrients

New research targets Borrelia burgdorferi nutrients, but funding pales when compared to public health cost


John Ferro, Poughkeepsie Journal

12:04 a.m. EST February 14, 2015


In 1982, a scientist, whose job was to study how insects and other bugs affect the health of people like you and me, found something unexpected in the belly of a tick.

Peering into his microscope, Willy Burgdorfer saw stringy, coiled bacteria living in the tick's midgut.


The spirochete he saw eventually was named after him — Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease.


And so began the study of the pernicious and inscrutable bug that plagues hundreds of thousands of people each year, particularly here in the Hudson ValleyResearch has found that Borrelia has a number of unexpected traits, one of which could provide a clue into how to defeat it.


One of the fundamental assumptions of how diseases develop assumes that pathogens can't thrive if they are deprived of iron.


Indeed, that is one way the body often fights off infection — by shunting the flow of iron to disease-causing bugs like Borrelia.


But in 2000, researchers at the University of Georgia discovered that much to their surprise, the Lyme disease pathogen is not undermined when it is deprived of iron.

Then, in 2013, researchers at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health found that instead of iron, Borrelia can — and needs to — acquire high levels of manganese to become virulent.


In a testament to the pain and anguish associated with Lyme, a number of reports followed that study cautioning the disease's sufferers against a low-manganese diet.

(The Lyme bacterium gets what it needs no matter how little manganese is in your diet, and everyone needs small amounts of dietary manganese every day. Borrelia also seems to need zinc.


Other research has identified the protein that allows the pathogen to take in the metals it needs from the surrounding environment.

So, the thinking goes, if you can inhibit the protein that takes up the manganese, perhaps you can starve, or at least degrade, the pathogen.


study released Wednesday examined the impact a common antihistamine might have on the protein's effectiveness.

The results were intriguing, but the study was only conducted in a laboratory setting.

Without clinical trials, its findings are suggestive at best, a number of experts in the field told me.


Lyme costs are weighed

Meanwhile, another Johns Hopkins study, released Feb. 5, estimated the direct costs for prolonged treatment of Lyme disease symptoms.

The study puts those costs at between $712 million and $1.3 billion a year — or nearly $3,000 per patient, on average.


The study said these costs are from return doctor visits and testing required to investigate lingering symptoms such as fatigue, muscular or skeletal pain and memory problems — even after a course of antibiotics has been completed.


But those figures get even higher when you factor in costs such as:

• Indirect medical costs (such as extra prescription and nonprescription drug costs that patients paid out of pocket).

• Non-medical costs (for home or health aides and miscellaneous services, such as transportation and babysitting).

• Lost wages.


US Biologic, a Memphis-based company that does research on Lyme disease prevention, did a little extrapolation of a CDC study that estimated the total cost burden in 2002. The company multiplied CDC's figure by the CDC's own revised estimates of Lyme disease cases, estimates that indicate Lyme is 10 times more prevalent than previously thought.


And it adjusted those figures for inflation.


The full cost in 2014? About $3.2 billion a year for direct and indirect costs. Now, compare that to just $23 million in annual funding for Lyme disease researchfrom the National Institutes of Health, and one wonders — what about Lyme disease is actually being starved?


"Out There" appears every other week in My Valley. Reach John Ferro at; Twitter: @PoJoEnviro


 Carl Tuttle

HudsonNH 03051

Website: New Hampshire Lyme Misdiagnosis


Petition: Calling for a Congressional investigation of the CDC, IDSA and ALDF


Letter to the Editor, The Lancet Infectious Diseases Published May 2012


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