The summer months are recognized by many nature lovers and pet owners as tick season. This means a greater risk for pets and humans to contract tick-borne illnesses like Lyme disease.
Dr. Shahid Karim, assistant professor of biology at The University of Southern Mississippi, recently received a $307,996 grant from the American Heart Association (AHA) to research the effect genes have on a tick’s ability to carry dangerous pathogens like agents of Lyme disease.
The grant, titled “Targeting Lyme Disease Vector,” funds four years of research to understand the interaction of tick-pathogens and examining new ways to interrupt the life cycle of tick-borne pathogens and new strategies to fight these diseases.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to humans by the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. In 2007, there were 27,444 cases of Lyme disease reported to the CDC.
“The question we’re investigating is what is helping them to stay on a host for a prolonged period of time and transmit deadly diseases to the humans,” said Karim.
Karim says ticks have multifunctional salivary glands that play a critical role in the transmission of disease-causing agents or pathogens to their hosts. “In their quest for a blood meal, ticks manipulate a variety of host hemostatic –blood clotting responses by secreting molecules from their salivary glands,” said Karim. “In the saliva, there are proteins that help these disease-causing pathogens get into the host and stay there.”
These tiny ticks are as small as a poppy seed and often go unnoticed by their victims. Early signs of Lyme disease can develop within a few weeks of being bitten and mimic flu symptoms like headache, tiredness, muscle or joint pain and swollen lymph glands.
Ticks transmit Lyme disease agents within the first 24 to 36 hrs of attachment to their host, and if left untreated, infections from the disease can spread to the nervous system, joints and heart. Karim hopes understanding the interaction between ticks and pathogens will help develop strategies to combat tick-borne infections and diseases.
“Interrupting tick immuno-modulatory factors could provide a novel method for controlling both tick feeding and disease transmission,” Karim said.
Dr. Shahid Karim, center, an assistant professor of biology at The University of Southern Mississippi, works in his laboratory with students Parul Singh, left and Valerie Dowell. Karim recently received a grant from the American Heart Association to study the effects of tick-borne diseases. (Submitted photo)
About The University of Southern Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities. In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world. Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at www.usm.edu.