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Scientists Receive Patent for Development of "combination" Proteins to Produce Vaccines for Lyme Disease

UPTON -- Scientists belonging to the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory and collaborators at Stony Brook University have been granted// the U.S. Patent Number 7,179,448 which will allow them to develop chimeric, or "combination," proteins that will accelerate the development of vaccines and diagnostic tests for Lyme disease.

The genetically engineered proteins combine pieces of two proteins that are normally present on the surface of the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, but at different parts of the organism’s life cycle. "Combining pieces of these two proteins into one chimeric protein should trigger a 'one-two-punch' immune response more capable of fending off the bacterium than either protein alone," says Brookhaven biologist John Dunn, a researcher on the BNL Lyme disease team. "These chimeric proteins could also be used as diagnostic reagents that distinguish disease-causing strains of bacteria from relatively harmless ones, and help assess the severity of an infection," Dunn said.

Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the U.S., causing approximately 25,000 new cases each year — a rate that is expected to increase by at least a third from 2002 to 2012, according to a new study. Early symptoms of the disease, which is spread by the bite of an infected deer tick, include a bull's-eye rash at the site of the bite and flu-like symptoms. If not promptly treated with antibiotics, it can lead to more serious symptoms, including joint and neurological complications.

Scientists have been working on vaccines based on the structures of proteins found on the outer surface of Borrelia burgdoferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. Dunn and colleagues deciphered the atomic level structures of these proteins, known as outer surface proteins A and C (OspA and OspC), at the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS) at Brookhaven Lab. The OspA protein, which was used to make the original vaccine again
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