Johns Hopkins Lyme and Tickborne Diseases Research and Education Institute
With all tickborne diseases on the rise nationally and globally, the urgent public health problem of Lyme disease requires a swift, comprehensive solution. Doctors disagree on the best therapy and federal research funding has been limited.
Public health's fresh approach to science-driven problem-solving is designed to answer crucial questions such as:
- How does the disease originate at the molecular level and then spread from ticks to human hosts?
- What are the best policies for containment and eradication?
Our vision is clearer and more urgent than ever. Smallpox was the first disease to be eradicated globally, using a multi-pronged attack by microbiologists, vaccine specialists, epidemiologists, clinicians, policy makers, advocates, and community workers. Similar collaborative efforts are targeting polio and parasitic worms. Lyme disease and all tickborne illnesses should be next.
The Tickborne Disease Working Group, a federal advisory panel, issued a 2018 report to Congress that identified the following priorities:
- Promote early and accurate diagnosis by developing faster, more accurate lab tests
- Strengthen national surveillance
- Understand immunological mechanisms that control the pathogen-host interaction for Lyme disease and other tickborne diseases
- Develop therapeutic options for treating acute and persistent illness
To act on these recommendations, Lyme disease and other tickborne diseases should be under the public health umbrella. Johns Hopkins, a premier research institution housing the world’s leading schools of public health and medicine, is uniquely positioned to bring scientists and clinicians together to tackle this growing problem.
Establish the Johns Hopkins Lyme and Tickborne Diseases Research and Education Institute
The Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology (MMI) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health will host the Institute, where premier public health researchers can collaborate with medical school colleagues as well as national and international organizations such as the Global Lyme Alliance. Arturo Casadevall, chair of MMI, envisions the Institute as both a research hub and a critical training ground for the next generation of young scholars.
Over the past year and a half, we’ve made exciting progress toward establishing the Institute. Thanks to a small (but growing!) group of researchers, advocates, and philanthropists, we are on the verge of recruiting the inaugural director, funding a tick insectary (or “tickery”) and launching an annual symposium to bring the broader Lyme and tickborne illness communities together to further our work.
MMI's Malaria Research Institute has significantly reduced the burden of malaria over the past ten years. Much of this success has come from the study of mosquitoes and a deeper understanding of the populations and policies that can influence change. Dr. Casadevall’s concept is to pattern Lyme research after malaria research's success at Hopkins, which benefited from an insectary to study mosquito biology and has developed innovative vaccine, treatment, and control options, such as targeting the mosquito's sense of smell.
The Lyme Institute will model this approach, including using a tickery to study tick biology, researching the most promising vaccine and treatment solutions, examining the economic impact of Lyme, and developing policy recommendations to enhance prevention measures. This comprehensive approach, described by Hopkins as the power of public health, is lacking in most institutions focused on Lyme and tick disease research.
We believe that this broader positioning will actually help quiet the controversies that have surrounded the very existence of tickborne diseases, particularly Chronic Lyme, in recent years. We are also confident that the Bloomberg School’s proven track record with malaria, smallpox, HIV, and other infectious diseases creates a solid blueprint for our efforts to combat tickborne illnesses.
Developing new therapies, training new researchers, engaging policymakers with data-driven recommendations, and discovering a viable vaccine for Lyme disease will be impossible without philanthropy.
Estimated costs for the Institute:
Total costs: $35 million to fully establish the Institute, build the tickery, expand the complement of research facilities, and hire the scientists and staff needed to drive research across all disciplines.
UPDATE April 2021: $3.1 million has been secured toward our initial goal of $10 million for startup costs, allowing us to launch an international search for the inaugural director. Once the director is in place, we have the potential to secure another $5 million.
Recent federal legislation, known as the TICK Act, will provide close to $150 million for Lyme and tickborne illness research. Given our track record for securing government funding (JHU receives more government grants than any other academic institution), we are uniquely positioned to become a center of excellence with both private and government funding.
We’ve reached a tipping point toward vanquishing this challenging disease. Johns Hopkins has a long history of bringing together philanthropists, federal funding agencies, renowned researchers, and world-class facilities to solve the world's most urgent health problems. We can do the same with the Lyme disease and tickborne illness and invite you to join us in our efforts.
Please consider a gift to help us establish and launch the Johns Hopkins Lyme and Tickborne Diseases Research and Education Institute. Funding will support these important components:
- Translational research collaborators in the School of Medicine
- Recruitment and support of new researchers, postdoctoral fellows, and doctoral students in the vector sciences
- Upgraded laboratories with state-of-the-art equipment
- The world’s first tick insectary, specially constructed for observing and studying different species of ticks
- Annual summit for global Lyme disease and tickborne illnesses research
- Core operating funds
For more information, contact:
Heath Elliott, Associate Dean for Development
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Johns Hopkins is already home to some of the world’s foremost experts in Lyme and infectious disease research:
John Aucott, MD, chair of the federal Tickborne Disease Working Group, also recently led an interdisciplinary CDC committee that framed the next steps for Lyme research and treatment. John is an associate professor of medicine and director of the Johns Hopkins Lyme Disease Clinical Research Center. The center operates a patient blood repository, funded by the Alex Cohen Foundation, which is the main provider of blood samples for Lyme research worldwide. John has personally helped countless individuals who suffer from tickborne illnesses to identify and address their unique circumstances and ultimately to regain their health.
Arturo Casadevall, MD, PhD, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor and Chair, MMI, serves as the Institute's acting director. He studies how microbes cause disease and how hosts protect against microbes.
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Ying Zhang is quoted.
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Olivia Goodreau, now living with Lyme, created the LivLyme Foundation to raise awareness of tickborne illnesses and funding for research in this challenging area.
Lyme disease is an emergency. Instead of feeding the hype, we must support the science.
The controversy may be low-hanging fruit, but what we really need to focus on is a motherlode of hopeful research shining new light on the disease.
Lyme Disease Is Baffling, Even to Experts
But new insights are at last accumulating.
In a mouse model of severe Lyme disease, borrelia persister inocula causes severe Lyme arthritis that is not cured by the current Lyme antibiotics
Our research showed that this tickborne pathogen could be eradicated by a three-drug combination. We believe this may explain and perhaps treat post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome or persistent (chronic) Lyme disease, but more studies are needed.
The Baltimore Sun
As tick season begins, researchers find promising treatment for Lyme-related disease
About 300,000 people a year are infected with Lyme disease through tick bites, and for up to 20 percent of them the condition persists after a course of antibiotics. But just in time for tick season, researchers are now onto a promising treatment for those sufferers.