An mRNA vaccine against Lyme disease-causing bacteria

In pre-clinical models, researchers at Penn Medicine have developed a vaccine that protects against Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.

An experimental mRNA vaccine provides protection in preclinical animal models against infection from Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, according to new research from the Perelman School of Medicine. Results from these pre-clinical animal models suggest that the vaccine prevents the development of Lyme disease and may represent a powerful tool in reducing the number of Lyme disease cases.

A deer tick in a petri dish.
Image: iStock/nechaev-kon

The bacteria that causes Lyme disease is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected ticks, and can cause fever, headache, fatigue, and a skin rash. If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system. Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with a few weeks of antibiotics, but some individuals develop post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome, which can cause long-lasting symptoms like severe joint pain and neurocognitive issues. While there are existing vaccines against Lyme disease for dogs, there is not currently one approved for routine use in humans.

“Bacteria are more complex organisms than viruses, and therefore it can be more challenging to develop effective vaccines against them,” says senior author, Norbert Pardi, an assistant professor of microbiology. “Here we were able to identify a target for a mRNA vaccine that shows promising results for preventing B. burgdorferi infection in animal models.”

The vaccine, described in Cell Press, uses the same messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) technology employed in the Pfizer and Moderna SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, which was pioneered at Penn.

Read more at Penn Medicine News.