Scientists create a DNA test that identifies Lyme disease in horses


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A Rutgers University scientist aiming to help cure a sick horse has created a highly sensitive DNA test that could have applications for hard-to-detect diseases like Lyme disease in humans.

As shown in a study published in Journal of veterinary diagnostic investigationsa special DNA test devised by Steven Schutzer, MD, professor of medicine at Rutgers College of Medicine in New Jersey, helped a team at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine identify Lyme neuroblastoma in an 11-year-old Swedish mare.

Although Lyme disease was suspected, a standard PCR test did not detect the disease agent, the morphoform Borrelia burgdorferi.

As with the treatment of most diseases, early detection is essential with Lyme.

“Early diagnosis leads to immediate treatment,” Schutzer said. “Of course, this gives the best chance of a cure.”

Schutzer’s ‘Hybrid Gene Capture Test’, a highly sensitive test developed by the team, identified the pathogen in a sample from a horse spinal fluid, allowing it to be diagnosed and treated successfully. The test works first by selectively isolating DNA from disease-causing microorganisms.

“This method is like having a special, specific ‘hook’ that captures only Borrelia DNA and not the DNA of other microbes, nor the host’s (animal or human) DNA,” Schutzer said. “DNA detection is a straightforward test, which means we know you have active disease if it’s spreading into your blood or spinal fluid.”

Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne illness in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In humans, a characteristic rash may or may not occur, along with fever, headache, and fatigue. The infection, unchecked, can travel to the nervous system, joints, and heart.

like humans, horses are obstructive occasional hosts of B. Not all infected horses show clinical signs of Lyme disease. If symptoms appear, they can include chronic weight loss, lameness, and mild fever. Antibody tests are usually done when Lyme disease is suspected.

In the case described in the study, antibody testing and mare PCR testing did not indicate infection. Only the advanced Schutzer test detected the disease.

Lyme disease in horses can cause long-term complications that include damage to the nervous system, joints, skin, and even vision.

Thomas Divers, the veterinarian who led the equine team on the paper and is a professor of medicine and assistant chief of the department of large animal medicine at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in New York, said. “This is a very promising technology. The concentrated treatment against B. burgdorferi in this case resulted in the horse’s complete recovery.”

While many diseases, such as COVID-19 and strep throat, attack humans in great numbers from PathogensIn other diseases, such as Lyme disease, bacteria multiply slowly within a host, producing much lower numbers making detection more difficult.

Schutzer, an expert on Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases, is working on better ways to detect diseases that have what he calls “low copy numbers” of pathogens.

According to the CDC, about 476,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported in humans each year. Black-legged tick, also known as deer tickIt is responsible for most cases of Lyme disease in the United States and appears to be increasing in frequency and geographical spread.

Other scientists involved in the study included Claire Fraser and Emmanuel Mongodin of the Institute of Genomic Sciences at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Christopher Miller of Miller and Associates Equine Practice in Brewster, NY; Rodney Belgrave of Mid-Atlantic Equine Hospital in Ringus, NJ; and Rachel Gardner of BW Furlong and Associates in Oldwick, NJ

New technologies can detect Lyme disease weeks before current tests

more information:
Thomas J.Divers et al, Hybrid genomic capture assay for the detection of Borrelia burgdorferi: an application for the diagnosis of equine neuroblastoma, Journal of veterinary diagnostic investigations (2022). doi: 10.1177/10406387221112617

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