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NIH Strategic Research Plan Aims to Improve Tickborne Disease Diagnosis, Detection

NEW YORK – Amid an uptick in the reported cases of tickborne diseases (TBDs) in the US, the National Institutes of Health announced on Thursday a strategic research plan to further research and develop new ways to diagnose and treat the diseases.

The plan focuses on five scientific priorities to advance research and development in the area over the next five years, including improving detection and diagnosis of TBDs by developing rapid diagnostic tests that can detect pathogens early and late in infection. The tests will also be able to distinguish between active and past infections, the NIH said in a statement.

As part of this priority, the organization said it will support research on new rapid diagnostics tests, with multipathogen tests as the ultimate goal, and direct-detection technologies for diagnosis in early phases of the diseases. The NIH also said it will develop diagnostics to monitor treatment response and success and to differentiate symptoms of TBDs from those of other diseases.

Included in the plan are goals for identifying the human biomarkers that detect infection and discovering the biomarkers of persistent symptoms.

The NIH also said it will work to develop tools and resources to advance research into TBDs by facilitating access to biological samples and supporting analysis of TBD genetic data, as well as supporting preclinical development of new drugs and vaccines.

The plan's other priorities are improving knowledge of the diseases, developing new treatments for TBDs and techniques to reduce complications from TBDs, and supporting diagnostics that can predict treatment success.

There are currently a variety of TBD tests on the market, including Quidel's Sofia Lyme FIA and Sofia 2 Lyme+ fluorescent immunoassay, Gold Standard Diagnostics' Borrelia burgdorferi IgG/IgM ELISA assay, and IGeneX's Lyme ImmunoBlot IgM and IgG. ChromaCode has a nine-target qPCR panel test available for research use only that tests for tickborne pathogens, and Polish molecular diagnostics company Genomtec said it has a TBD test in development.