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Research Foundation for Tick-Borne Infections Fights Lyme Disease, Babesiosis and Encephalitis with Pilot Studies
Date:2/15/2013

by blood transfusion as well as by ticks. In certain patient populations, such as the elderly or patients who are immunocompromised, it can be severe and potentially fatal. However, the severity of illness is variable even in these groups, and Dr. Vannier hopes to characterize the host genetic factors that influence the course and severity of disease. Dr. Vannier has already identified a group of genes in mice that appear to determine host infectivity and will use his NRFTD award to create mice that lack the gene coding for this host factor in order to assess their resistance to infection. An additional aim of this work is to characterize the specific mechanisms by which these genes affect host susceptibility; once this is understood, Dr. Vannier proposes to screen libraries of small molecules that might inhibit the activity of the specific genes involved, possibly leading to novel treatments for severe babesiosis.

Powassan encephalitis is a serious, emerging tick-borne disease that is fatal in about 10% of its victims. Recent evidence suggests that its incidence is increasing in eastern North America, and no vaccine for the disease currently exists. NRFTD has awarded a grant to Dr. Saravanan Thangamani, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pathology at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, to study tick-virus-host interactions during transmission of the Powassan virus (POWV). Specifically, Dr. Thangamani will investigate the cutaneous immune responses of mice to tick-transmitted POWV in order to determine if and how tick saliva compromises the ability of the mice to fight off infection with the virus. Tick salivary glands produce a complex mixture of bioactive molecules that frequently have an effect on transmission efficiency, pathogen establishment and disease pathogenesis. Dr. Thangamani hopes to elucidate the specific factors that determine the course of Powassan virus infection, which could aid in future vaccine development not j
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