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News Article

Genetic Factors in Tick-Borne Disease

May 22, 2018

clinician removing a tick from woman's neck

Tick-borne diseases present a significant public health concern for communities known for large tick populations. The most common tick-borne diseases include Lyme disease and Human Baseiosis (HB), but there are a multitude of infections that are transmitted through ticks. Many of these diseases are emerging in growing numbers each year, while new infectious organisms are actively being identified. 

Dr. Jacob Lemieux, from the Division of Infectious Disease at Massachusetts General Hospital, leads a team that is investigating the genetic factors that impact the pathogenicity, or ability to cause disease, of ticks. Dr. Lemieux’s team, working out of the Rosenberg research group, is actively recruiting patients that present to the hospital with tick-borne diseases. Through the creation of a biorepository and genome wide association studies (GWAS) to test if a genetic variant is associated with a trait, the ultimate goal of this project is to investigate the vast spectrum of host and pathogen interactions. This could lead to a better understanding of why these diseases manifest in such diverse ways and how resistance or susceptibility may arise because of the interactions between host and disease.  

The Biobank comes as fantastic resource for Dr. Lemieux’s study. Dr. Lemieux has obtained genomic data from Biobank participants who were previously infected with a tick-borne disease. Combining Biobank data with the data that are actively being collected through patient recruitment in clinic, Dr. Lemieux’s team has been able to assemble a dataset large enough to begin making robust and significant findings. A greater understanding of the genetic factors of the tick-borne pathogen, human host, and the interaction between the two has the potential to improve patient care of tick-borne disease through the development of new therapies and preventative therapies.