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New Test Can Detect Lyme Disease in 15 Minutes

Health + Wellness
A Lyme disease warning on Montauk, Long Island, New York. Neil R / Flickr

Biomedical engineers have developed a new, rapid test capable of detecting Lyme disease in just 15 minutes.


Current testing for Lyme disease requires two complex tests required to detect antibodies responding to the bacterium and requires experienced personnel in the lab working over the course of several hours. The new test is capable of detecting Lyme disease antibodies between 97.5 and 100 percent of the time.

"Our findings are the first to demonstrate that Lyme disease diagnosis can be carried out in a microfluidic format that can provide rapid quantitative results," said study lead Sam Sia. "This means that our test could easily be used directly in a doctor's office, obviating having to send the samples out to a laboratory that needs at least a couple of hours, if not days, to get test results."

Zoomed photo of fluid moving through a small channel in the microfluidic chip. Columbia Engineering


Writing in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology, researchers report that they found a combination of three proteins that worked to identify antibodies that are specific to bacterium responsible for the transmission of Lyme disease. Researchers evaluated 142 samples from patients with Lyme disease, healthy individuals from areas where Lyme disease is endemic, and those who have arthritis from Lyme disease by first screening a set of known biomarkers and their ability to detect Lyme disease, which were then tested using a standard enzyme immunoassay and an advanced technology developed by Sia.

When tested against people with Lyme disease, the new methodology was more sensitive than previous diagnostic capabilities and was better at detecting signs of the disease in its early stages.

"While the assay will require more refinement and testing before it can be approved for widespread use as a test for Lyme disease, our results are very exciting," said one of the study's lead authors, Siddarth Arumugam. "It will help so many people if we can develop a single, rapid, multiplexed diagnostic test to identify Lyme disease stage that can be used in doctors' offices."

An estimated 300,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with Lyme disease every year. Lyme disease is transmitted by the bite of infected blacklegged ticks carrying the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium. In all, the Mayo Clinic notes there are four bacteria capable of transmitting the disease around the world and is more likely to infect people who live in "grassy and heavily wooded areas where ticks carrying Lyme disease thrive."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue and a skin rash known as Erythema migrans, or the tell-tale large bullseye surrounding the bite. If left untreated, the CDC notes that infection can "spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system."

Though the new test is promising, the CDC currently only recommends the two-tiered system, reports the Philly Voice.

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