Lyme disease is the fastest growing and most prevalent vector-borne disease in North America and Europe and continues to infect people in every country spreading around the world with frightening speed and intensity.
As most people are aware, one of the biggest problems for the doctors trying to stop this epidemic is that there is not currently a 100% accurate diagnostic test available, and due to heated debate regarding the behavior of the bacteria once a human is infected and appropriate treatment, the sick continue to get sicker as the number of new cases climbs each year.
Although there are several notable projects addressing these problems, in Europe, a very unique project is underway that should give everyone hope for better diagnostic resources in the future. HILYSENS, a 2 year R+D project funded by the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Program (FP7) under Research for the Benefit of the SMEs was officially started on November 1st, 2010. The Kick-off Meeting was held in Barcelona on November 8th, hosted by AROMICS at the PCB and has continued to attract grants and donations to this important project.
The aim of HILYSENS is to develop a novel lab-on-chip diagnostic tool to improve clinical diagnostic, disease monitoring and treatment of Lyme Disease by enabling specific and sensitive detection of the human serological response against its causative agent: Borrelia burgdoferi. Lyme Disease is the most common tick-borne infection in Europe with around 85,000 new cases per year and its incidence is increasing due to climate change. Current laboratory diagnostic methods lack sensitivity and specificity to detect early cases as well as late manifestations of the disease such as chronic or autoimmune-related infections. For this reasons, disease incidence is underestimated as many cases go mis- or undiagnosed. Late, delayed, or inadequate treatment can lead to serious symptoms such as neuroborreliosis or arthritis, which can be disabling and difficult to treat.
Most people are unaware that ticks become active at any temperatures above freezing, in fact they have been documented in active form during winter thaws of only several days. These cold days are actually the greatest time of risk. When the female tick lays her eggs in the late fall, she dies leaving three to six thousand of invaders. As soon as they hatch they are called larvae (with 6 legs) and they are hungry immediately looking for blood! At this stage they are smaller than a poppy seed and most unlikely to be seen on the body and after eating may lie dormant for up to a year. They feed a second time as a nymph once they have grown two more legs, and are still just the size of a freckle. The adult female is the tick usually the one large enough to find on the body. Also, NOT ALL INFECTIOUS TICKS LEAVE A BULLS EYE RASH AFTER INFECTING A PERSON WITH LYME WHILE SOME TICKS THAT LEAVE A BULLS EYE RASH WILL ONLY INFECT THE SKIN. THIS IS NEW INFORMATION DISCOVERED BY A TEAM OF RESEARCHERS AT STONYBROOK UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER.
Symptoms of the Lyme disease occur in thrusts with alternating intensity and appearance in contrast to organic illnesses. Many patients also suffer from slightly higher temperature during those thrusts. Accompanying infections with other bacteria occur increasingly often and lead to a complicated course of the disease. Often a tick bite is not identified early enough or the immediate treatment of the general practitioner is not sufficient. As a result the chronically-ill Lyme disease patients undergo a true martyrdom as they also suffer from the fact that besides their physical and mental illness they do not get a satisfactory diagnosis and no one takes their illness seriously.
HILYSENS seeks to provide a compact and robust lab-on-chip system, designed to work with small volumes and without the need of expert operators. This tool together with a portable reader and user-friendly software will enable more precise, accurate and reproducible testing making it possible to become the standard tool for the disease diagnosis. A novel production approach for the lab-on-a-chip will be developed which will enable to target really low mass-production costs, overcoming one of the main issues of the lab-on-a-chip technology and opening great market opportunities for the participant SMEs. Sensitive and reliable patient diagnosis provided by HILYSENS device will optimize resources available to medical practitioners, heavily reducing the current costs of the disease, increasing profitability and most importantly, patient’s quality of life.
HILYSENS hopes this will solve the major problem faced by health professionals when treating Lyme Disease patients: the lack of a reliable and standardized diagnostic test. HILYSENS will be the first lab Âon a Âchip tool that will allow specific and sensitive detection of acute, chronic and autoimmunity associated Lyme Disease infections and will ensure non-Âinvasive, fast, specific and easy diagnosing, prognosis and monitoring. Specific and sensitive detection of immunologic profiles will allow better point of care treatment and intervention of the disease. Moreover, acquired knowledge on the pleomorphic forms arising from the project, will permit future implementation of novel treatment options that will be offered to patients suffering from acute and chronic harmful infestations contributing, in all, to improve quality of life for all Lyme sufferers world-wide.
If not treated in the early stages Lyme Disease can progress to chronic stages of more serious symptoms even interfering with patients daily activities and causing inability to attend school or work. All of these make the long term cost of Lyme Disease to families, school systems and health care systems astounding. Autoimmune and chronic conditions represent immense costs for families, insurance companies, heathcare providers and government support and their economic impact goes beyond the costs of healthcare treatments. Indirect costs, such as those from lost productivity, can match or sometimes exceed the direct costs.
Earlier detection and treatment of Lyme Disease will thus greatly reduce the associated costs of the treatment and management of the illnesses, as well as increase the possibility of the patient making a full recovery and going on to live an active life as a contributor to society and the economy.