Lyme disease is caused by an infection of one of several bacteria which are spread by ticks, especially the deer tick, also referred to as the black-legged tick. Early symptoms include a red rash, fever, fatigue, and headaches. Later, additional symptoms may be paralysis of one or both sides of the face, joint pain, neck stiffness, severe headaches, heart palpitations, and other less common symptoms. Ticks populate forests and fields alike: anyone venturing outdoors is likely to encounter them and risks contracting this debilitating disease.
Three hundred thousand Americans and sixty-five thousand Europeans contract Lyme disease each year, and the numbers are on the rise. When Lyme disease first came to the public’s attention in 1975, it was hoped a vaccine to prevent the illness would soon be developed. Forty-six years later, we still don’t have a vaccine for Lyme disease although multiple attempts have been made. However, a new type of vaccine has recently been developed and tested on guinea pigs (the four-legged kind resembling tribbles, not the two-legged type resembling humans).
It was already known that guinea pigs develop a natural immunity to tick bites after only two or three exposures in a laboratory setting. Researchers decided to see if an mRNA vaccine could be made that taught the immune system to recognize nineteen proteins present in tick saliva, since the bacteria behind Lyme disease is spread through tick bites. The vaccine, called 19ISP, was tested on guinea pigs that had not previously been bitten by ticks. In the control group of guinea pigs which did not receive the vaccine but were bitten by ticks, nearly half tested positive for the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. Not one of the guinea pigs from the vaccinated group tested positive, proving that the mRNA vaccine works, in guinea pigs, at least. Not so much in mice, though. The scientist plan to test it on rabbits next, and possibly other animal species before going to human trials. Note that the vaccine is safe, and no animals are harmed in these tests.