CanLyme funding overview of high quality Canadian research projects

Dr. Sarah Keating, Anatomic Pathologist, CanLyme Board Member.

Thank you to everyone who helped promote awareness of The Quiet Epidemic global impact campaign by sharing CanLyme’s event on social media, watching the documentary, making a donation or participating in the live Q&A panel discussion. Enjoy the highlights of Dr. Sarah Keating, Anatomic Pathologist, CanLyme Board Member, from the live Q&A panel discussion held online May 28 2023.

I was attracted to CanLyme as a patient-centered and science-based organization, committed to promoting and funding high quality Canadian research. We fund Lyme research across the country through our venture grant program.

Dr. Sarah Keating

Panel members

  • Janet Sperling Entomologist, President, CanLyme
  • Jim Wilson Past President and Founder, CanLyme
  • Dr. Sarah Keating, Anatomic Pathologist, CanLyme Board Member
  • Justin Wood Founder and CEO of Geneticks
  • Elizabeth May MP, current Leader of the Green Party of Canada
  • Q&A panel FAQ summary – The Quiet Epidemic
Hear the other panelists

As an Anatomic Pathologist, you understand the need for good data and research to illuminate the course of the disease. Can you tell us Sarah, a little about the research that is under way and is aligned to patients?

I joined the board of CanLyme last year after losing a loved one to complications of Lyme disease. I was attracted to CanLyme as a patient-centered and science-based organization, committed to promoting and funding high quality Canadian research. We fund Lyme research across the country through our venture grant program. In 2017 CanLyme also supported the formation of the Mount Allison Lyme Research Center which has allowed the funding of many undergraduate and graduate student Lyme research projects.

I would like to outline some of the specific projects CanLyme has funded in recent years.

In the area of tick biology 

  • A group predominantly from Nova Scotia has recently published their findings that female deer ticks infected with the Lyme bacteria have increased ability to survive the winter;
  • The same group has studied the ability of an essential oil from balsam fir needles to kill ticks at low temperatures such as occur during the winter. This extract has potential as a non-toxic method for controlling tick populations

Looking at a nonhuman animal model

  • Looking at an animal model a group from Saskatchewan infected mice with different strains of Borrelia burgdorferi and measured the strength of their antibody responses. They are also examining whether female infected mice transmit antibodies to their offspring and, if so, how long the protection lasts. The offspring of infected mothers are being monitored for adverse health outcomes. This research is important since there is extensive evidence that transmission of Lyme from mother to fetus can occur in humans and can result in serious illness.
  • Another nonhuman animal study investigated wild animal reservoirs of Lyme in Atlantic Canada. Researchers from Saskatchewan and New Brunswick looked at the prevalence of the Lyme bacteria and a related Borrelia bacteria that causes a relapsing fever. 339 small and medium sized mammals and birds were analyzed and overall 4% were found to be carrying the Lyme bacteria while 2% carried the related Borrelia bacteria. The percentages were much higher in certain species such as mice and voles. The study has implications for the health of humans and companion animals in the region.

A number of CanLyme funded studies have looked at the challenges faced by Canadian Lyme disease patients

  • A study from the Mount Allison group, published in 2018, examined the experiences of 45 Canadians who were diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease outside the conventional Canadian healthcare system. These patients either were not diagnosed or were not adequately treated within the conventional system. The lack of treatment caused a sense of abandonment and desperation. In accessing outside care there was a significant financial and emotional burden placed on the patients. The patients indicated that one of the major barriers to diagnosis and treatment was the reliance of conventional health care on the low sensitivity two-tiered testing system.  In some cases physicians within the system refused to treat for fear of repercussions from their colleagues and from professional associations.
  • Another recently published patient-centred study from the Mount Allison Centre examined the experiences of 210 Canadian patients who sought treatment at a Lyme disease clinic in the United States. There are two differing sets of commonly used guidelines for diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease: those from the Infectious Diseases Society of American (IDSA) as was mentioned in the film, and those from the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS). At the US clinic the patients were diagnosed by ILADS criteria which do not rely solely on laboratory testing but also include clinical criteria. Treatment followed ILADS guidelines and the majority of patients responded positively with a significant decrease in symptoms. The authors point out that more patient centred research is needed.

In terms of basic science

  • Researchers at Mount Allison are currently examining whether the Lyme bacteria can trigger cancerous changes in cells.

On the pathology front

  • There is early work on Borrelia detection in autopsy and biopsy tissue. This is an important initiative partly because there is little in the pathology literature so far. The presence of Borrelia needs to be correlated with clinical symptoms in order to better understand the disease and gage effectiveness of treatment. Hopefully one day it will be routine for pathology laboratories to look for the Lyme bacteria in tissues where there is clinical suspicion of the disease.
  • Most of the studies CanLyme funds result in excellent peer-reviewed publications. Our ultimate goal is to improve and in some cases save the lives of those suffering from Lyme and other tick-borne diseases.

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