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Tufts University School of Medicine

A Vote Against Lyme Disease

Participants in the challenge have come up with some creative ways to keep deer ticks like this one from spreading illness. Photo: Shutterstock
Thursday, January 9, 2020 - 7:00pm

In the video, Kobe the German Shepherd is getting his check-up at the veterinarian’s office. His owner says the dog is doing well, but she does mention, “We’re starting to see a lot of ticks on him after his walks.”

After sharing some tips on keeping Kobe tick-free, the veterinarian adds: “Do you think about doing tick checks on yourself?” It’s a good practice, the vet says, along with wearing insect repellant and treating clothes and shoes with the pesticide permethrin.

Dog owners already talk with vets about preventing ticks on their pets, so why not have vets share some info on protecting the rest of the family from tick bites?

The short video is one of four proposals that students developed as part of the Tufts Lyme Disease Challenge. The competition, the brainchild of Tufts trustee Hugh Roome, A74, F77, AG74, FG80, FG80, A11P, F15P, A18P, seeks to build on Tufts University’s long history of leadership in Lyme disease research. It draws on the broad scope of research at Tufts to develop novel approaches to preventing, diagnosing, treating and eradicating one of the fastest growing infectious diseases in the United States. Each year, an estimated 300,000 new cases are diagnosed.

Check out the video proposals and vote for your favorites. The top vote-getting team will receive $1,000.

The competition kicked off on November 1 with expert talks, panel discussions and brainstorming sessions to discuss what’s most needed in the fight against Lyme, from educational outreach to basic knowledge of the bacteria that causes the disease. Over 100 Tufts students, post-doctoral fellows, faculty and staff participated in the half-day event commented, “It was great to have so much energy in the room and hear so many terrific ideas,” said Linden Hu, a Lyme disease researcher at Tufts University School of Medicine. “The goal now is to keep the momentum going and really have Tufts make a difference in eradicating Lyme disease.” 

Since the event, smaller teams of students have worked with Lyme disease researchers at Tufts to develop their proposals. The four students from Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts who submitted the Kobe video say that well visits with the vet could be a new way to spread education about Lyme Disease prevention.

In another video, a group of medical and biomedical engineering students propose a way to prevent tick bites from turning into disease. Lyme bacteria are amazingly cagey in their ability to avoid detection by the immune system. The students propose using nanoparticle infused therapeutics to boost a person’s immunity, essentially preventing the bacteria that cause Lyme Disease from starting a full-blown infection in the body.

The videos are impressive in their wide range of approaches. A group of biomedical engineering students suggest using the power of pheromones to create a tick-attracting trap; the first step would be enhancing tick pheromones so they last longer and can spread over a larger area.

The fourth video aims at one of the significant gaps in Lyme research: a thorough understanding of Borrelia, the bacteria that causes it. Borrelia is difficult to grow in a lab. One solution, the video offers, is to use a drug printing robot to make dozens of growth media with different combinations of nutrients, to quickly see which recipe is the best for culturing the bacteria.

You can vote once per email per day. Voting closes at midnight on February 24.