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Gillibrand Tours Trudeau Institute Lyme Disease Labs

WAMC/Pat Bradley

New York U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand toured the Trudeau Institute in Saranac Lake earlier this week.  The research center is famed for its study of lung diseases, but a new arm of the institute will be dedicated to immuno-engineering studies of Lyme disease.

Scientists at the Trudeau Institute are forming a “Research Center of Excellence” for Lyme and other tick-borne diseases using a $35 million grant from the New York State Regional Economic Development Council to Trudeau and Clarkson University.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand toured the laboratories as Institute President and CEO Ron Goldfarb and associate professor Timothy Sellati explained an emerging discipline called immuno-engineering that will be used to study ticks and Lyme disease vectors. Sellati showed Gillibrand their research in one of the labs.  “What we’re doing is developing a Lyme disease model in zebrafish using a micro-injector system to inject the bacteria the same way ticks would inject bacteria into an individual and cause Lyme disease. The benefit of using the zebrafish model is that the zebrafish are transparent. So we can see both the bacteria and the nutrifills at the same time.”  

Following the tour, Senator Gillibrand discussed the institute’s focused research on Lyme disease with scientists and institute officials. Dr. Sellati explained that the center hopes to discover groundbreaking solutions for tick-borne diseases.  “Instead of developing vaccines that would protect an individual against a single pathogen, a bacterium or a virus, actually develop vaccines that will interfere with the tick feeding process.  The deer tick carries a wide variety of bacterial and viral pathogens that can infect people. If you can target proteins in the salivary glands of the tick that are essential for efficient feeding you can block that process. You would protect people not only against Lyme disease, but babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, I can go on and on.”

A critical element of Trudeau’s Research Center of Excellence is to interact with physicians. Dr. Jonathan Krant, Rheumatology Medical Director at Adirondack Health, says clinical diagnosis of Lyme disease is difficult.  “Lyme is a more nuanced, difficult discussion. That said, as we become more adroit in diagnosing the importance of laboratory data to make a treatment decision is the heart of the discussion. There is an incredible amount of interest in this area. After all, how do I know that my patient has Lyme? In large measure we follow the Infectious Disease Society of America’s recommendations for diagnosis and treatment. But there may be evolving recommendations.  If a certain percentage of ticks in the community are infected with the organism, would one treat on that basis following a tick bite? So there are all kinds of diagnostic implications. But from a clinician’s perspective we never can exclude Lyme in a differential diagnosis today. Twenty years ago when I was finishing my training you never thought about Lyme disease, it was more of a research interest.”

According to Dr. Tim Sellati, the Trudeau Institute will host the only Research Center of Excellence dedicated to studying Lyme and other tick-borne diseases in the U.S.

It will collaborate with the New York State Department of Health, New York Medical College, the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Yale University School of Medicine and other institutions.

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