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How We Lost a Lyme Disease Vaccine

When it comes to PR wars, science is a bloodsucking mess.

by Michael Byrne
May 23 2012, 11:20am

I have no idea where you live, but here in my current home state of Maryland we have ticks just, like, materializing out of thin air. Merely seeing a spot of grass in the distance makes you tuck your pants into your socks and reach for the Deep Woods Off. That is because ticks are among the worst things going in nature — their whole thing is to shove their wretched little faces into your flesh and suck and suck until they either get fat with blood and fall off, or are found and tweezed. Finding one latched onto your ankle like some kind of pimple-insect hybid elicits an entirely unique kind of shudder.

Ticks also carry Lyme disease, a potentially disabling bacterial infection that’s on the rise and will likely continue to rise (2009 saw 30,000 cases in the U.S.). And tick-wise — and Lyme disease-wise — this season threatens to be brutal. You might want to get vaccinated. . . except the vaccine was yanked from the market by its manufacturer in 2002.

In 1998, GlaxoSmithKline released a vaccine. It was made from a protein found on the surface of the Lyme disease bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi; you get a dose and it triggers antibodies, which, rather than killing the bacteria, travelled into the tick itself, knocking out the bacteria at its source before it can enter the body. As far as vaccine mechanisms go, it’s pretty clever and one-of-a-kind. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long before things to go downhill.

Read the rest over at Motherboard.

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