Recently, Stony Brook researchers combined efforts with Brookhaven National Laboratory to develop a recombinant protein-based approach in creating what will hopefully become the first safe and effective vaccine against all strains of Lyme disease. The research was funded by a $2.5 million grant from the National Institute of Health, and the patent rights to the new technology will go to Baxter International, a global medical products and services company that is a leader in technologies related to the blood and circulatory system.

Members of the diverse team of scientists include Benjamin J. Luft, M.D., a Professor in the School of Medicine and Chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at SBU; Daniel Dykhuizen, Ph.D, of the Department of Ecology and Evolution at SBU; John Bruno, Ph.D from SBUy; Shohei Koide, Ph.D, a structural biologist at the University of Rochester; Xiaohua Yang, M.S. of SBU; and Cathy Lawson, Ph.D of Rutgers University and formerly of Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL).

“The process of developing this vaccine was very exciting because of the collaboration between clinical medicine and laboratory research,” Dr. Luft said.

Lyme disease is transmitted to humans by the bite of infected deer ticks, whose saliva contains the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. At one time, the disease was most prevalent in the Mid-Atlantic and New England states. More recently, however, Lyme disease has also appeared on the West Coast, in the southeast, and in large parts of Asia and Europe as well. Without treatment, severe neurological problems occur, and death can ensue in severe cases.

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Stony Brook contributed its vast knowledge of medicine, infectious disease, immunology and evolutionary molecular biology and variation of the organism to the project, while BNL brought its expertise and resources in microbiology and structural biology. BNL’#146;s resources included the National Synchrotron Light Source, which is one of the most advanced pieces of technology involved in studying the atomic structure of proteins.

Dr. Luft commented on the unique collaborative process that gave rise to the Lyme vaccine.

“This is the first vaccine to take advantage of the knowledge of structural biology of the natural protein in order to increase its potency and safety as a vaccine.”

First, the scientists studied a naturally occurring protein from different strains of Borrelia. Then, they engineered a new form of the original protein based on the aggregate information of the structures and knowledge of techniques to enhance antigenicity and safety. Researchers hope that this approach will make the vaccine effective against all Lyme strains throughout the world. The development of the vaccine is to be announced next week at the ninth International Conference on Lyme, Borreliosis and Other Tick Borne Diseases, to be held in New York City.

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“Our studies have included scientists from the U.S., Europe and Asia,” Dr. Luft said. “It is gratifying to see such cooperation leading to a new vaccine. The clinical trial process is a lengthy one, but we are sure that, once it is complete, many, many people throughout the world will be helped.”

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