When a loved one dies of Lyme: Donating to BAL’s Research Biorepository

Donating the tissues of a loved one who dies of Lyme disease is one of the best ways to accelerate research into better diagnostics and treatments for tick-borne diseases, because sample acquisition is often the most expensive and time-consuming part of a research study. There are very few sources of prescreened human tissue available to researchers.

The Lyme Disease Biobank (LDB), run by Bay Area Lyme Foundation (BAL), offers the best program for facilitating tissue donations and for delivering these samples to qualified researchers. LDB works in partnership with two non-profits, the National Disease Research Interchange (NDRI) and MyLymeData.

The process goes like this: NDRI works with families on the completion of authorization/consent forms and medical histories, then manages the tissue collection. LDB funds the collection and sample storage, and qualifies researchers to receive samples. Families can also link donations to the deceased’s MyLymeData profile, providing researchers with valuable information on a person’s medical history and Lyme or tick-borne disease diagnoses and treatments.

Since the tissue bank was launched in 2018, more than 10 families have donated tissue from deceased loved ones, and over 1,100 blood and urine samples have been collected. Thus far, more than 70 projects have been approved to receive samples. These tissues are being sent to researchers to study infection and inflammation processes and markers, which will provide insights for improving future diagnostics and treatments.

To make this process less stressful on families, NDRI can work with families to create a donation plan. LDB recommends that the NDRI forms be completed as soon as possible in advance of an expected death by requesting them through NDRI’s website at https://ndriresource.org/lyme-disease.

There is someone at NDRI available 24/7/365 to answer questions and assist with shorter timelines. NDRI will determine if a collection site is nearby or will help families locate a pathologist through a mortuary or a nearby medical institution. You can donate from anywhere in the continental U.S.

For more information about tissue or organ donation, visit NDRI’s Lyme registration page, or call 800-222-NDRI (6374), option 5. If the donation is imminent, or if you need immediate assistance, please call the number above.

For general questions that are not time-dependent for collection, please email Liz Horn, PhD, MBI, Principal Investigator, Lyme Disease Biobank at info@lymebiobank.org.

For more information:

Lyme Disease Biobank

Lyme disease heightens risk of mental disorders, suicidality

A Columbia-led study advises physicians and patients to be aware of psychiatric symptoms, particularly the first year after diagnosis

In a new study, U.S. and Danish researchers report that patients who received a hospital diagnosis of Lyme disease—inpatient, outpatient, or at the ER—had a 28 percent higher rate of mental disorders and were twice as likely to have attempted suicide post-infection, compared to individuals without the diagnosis.

The study, a collaboration of Columbia University and the Copenhagen Research Centre for Mental Health, is believed to be the first large, population-based study examining the relationship between Lyme disease and psychiatric outcomes.

The research appears in the July 28 online edition of the American Journal of Psychiatry (link is external and opens in a new window)

“It is time to move beyond thinking of Lyme disease as a simple illness that only causes a rash,” said Brian Fallon, MD, MPH, a psychiatrist with the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University who is the lead author of the paper. “In addition to the risk of severe cardiac, rheumatologic, and neurologic problems, Lyme disease can cause severe mental health problems as well.”

Dr. Fallon, one of the foremost researchers of the neuropsychiatric effects of Lyme disease, is director of the Lyme and Tick-borne Diseases Research Center at Columbia. The team of investigators on the study includes Michael Benros MD, PhD, principal investigator; Trine Madsen, PhD, co-first author; and Annette Erlangsen, PhD, all psychiatric epidemiologists at the Research Centre for Mental Health.

Higher Rate of Death by Suicide

To conduct their study, the researchers analyzed the medical record diagnoses of nearly 7 million people living in Denmark over a 22-year period, comparing the mental health data of individuals after a hospital-based diagnosis of Lyme disease to the rest of the Danish population who had never had a Lyme diagnosis recorded in the national medical register.

Patients who had a history of mental disorder or suicidality prior to the Lyme disease diagnosis were excluded from the analysis.

The analysis revealed that in addition to patients with Lyme disease being at greater risk of mental disorders and suicide attempts, they also had a 42 percent higher rate of affective disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder, and a 75 percent higher rate of death by suicide than those without the diagnosis.

Additionally, having more than one episode of Lyme disease was associated with a higher rate of mental disorders, affective disorders, and suicide attempts.

Half a Million People Treated for Lyme Disease Each Year

Each year nearly half a million people in the United States are diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease, also known as Lyme borreliosis, caused by a bacterium carried by deer ticks and transmitted to humans through their bite. The majority of cases have been reported in the northeastern, mid-Atlantic, and north-central states, but the geographic range where ticks and tick-borne diseases are found continues to expand.

Although most cases can be cured with a two- to four-week course of oral antibiotics, 10-20 percent of patients may suffer with symptoms of pain, fatigue, or difficulty thinking that last for months to years after treatment.

Several studies have pointed to a connection between Lyme disease and cognitive disorders months to years after antibiotic therapy or in people with untreated infections. In severe cases, individuals with late-stage Lyme disease may experience impaired concentration, irritability, memory and sleep disorders, and painful nerve dysfunction.

Dr. Michael Benros emphasizes that most people do not develop severe mental health issues after Lyme borreliosis. During the study period, only 7 percent of the nearly 13,000 individuals with a hospital diagnosis of Lyme disease followed up with hospital clinicians complaining of symptoms subsequently diagnosed as mental disorders.

Clinicians and Patients Should Be Aware of Risk

But findings of the study, the researchers said, are emblematic of a trend in Lyme disease cases that should not be overlooked. The Danish medical registry includes only psychiatric diagnosis made in a hospital setting – not by clinicians in communities – and it is likely that the number of individuals with new onset mental health problems following infection is much higher.

“This nationwide study confirms the association between Lyme disease and psychiatric disorders,” Dr. Benros said. “Treating clinicians and patients should be aware of an increased risk of mental health problems, particularly during the first year after a severe Lyme disease infection, and if mental health issues arise, patients should seek treatment and guidance. “

The study, “Lyme Borreliosis and Associations with Mental Disorders and Suicidal Behavior: A Nationwide Danish Cohort Study,” was funded by the Global Lyme Alliance, Inc.

Experts discuss strategies for fighting those Lyme symptoms that won’t go away

Two tick-borne disease experts, a physician and a researcher, discuss the many ways Lyme bacteria evade the immune system and promising new strategies for fighting lingering symptoms.

People with long-haul Lyme disease symptoms are often sidelined by the medical community. In a 2019 survey of 1,900 Lyme patients, 74% reported being treated disrespectfully by a healthcare provider, and 67% said that they postponed or avoided medical treatment due to discrimination, disrespect, or difficulty obtaining care.

Many of these patients develop chronic Lyme because the latest evidence on diagnostics and treatment isn’t reaching busy frontline physicians, who misdiagnose or undertreat. Some health-care providers don’t know that about 30% of Lyme sufferers don’t see the classic Lyme rash. Or that the Lyme screening tests aren’t reliable in the first month after infection. Or that 10 to 20% of the Lyme patients fail to recover after taking the short course of antibiotics recommended by the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA). And, to add insult to injury, there have been no new NIH-funded chronic Lyme treatment trials for more than 20 years — and Lyme sufferers need relief now.

Invisible International aims to fuel meaningful change for patients by accelerating the flow of new medical knowledge to treating physicians through the Bench-to-Bedside E-Colloquium, a monthly series of interactive discussions between world class researchers and boots-on-the-ground clinicians. The objective is to educate the medical and patient communities about promising new research and treatments, and to build bridges between these communities. Each colloquium will be annotated with the latest evidence from peer-reviewed journal articles.

The inaugural E-Colloquium tackles the controversial topic of “Borrelia persistence,” addressing the questions, “How does the Lyme bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, survive a recommended dose of antibiotics in the human body, and what treatment strategies can be used to eradicate the surviving organisms?”

The panel features Kenneth Liegner, MD, a distinguished internist who has been diagnosing and treating Lyme disease and related disorders since 1988, and Monica Embers, PhD, associate professor of microbiology and immunology and the director of the vector-borne disease research center at Tulane University School of Medicine. Embers is a leading expert in identifying treatments that can eradicate B. burgdorferi infections in primates, our closest mammalian relatives. The discussion is moderated by Christine Green, MD, a Stanford-trained and board-certified family medicine physician with 30 years of experience treating patients with tick-borne illness.

Invisible International’s Education Platform for Tick-borne Illness is funded by the Montecalvo Family Foundation, and the organization is currently seeking support to expand the E-Colloquium program. This platform currently offers more than 20 free, online Continuing Medical Education (CME) courses on the diagnostics, epidemiology, immunology, symptoms, and treatment of Lyme disease, Bartonellosis, and other tick-borne diseases.

Invisible International, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is dedicated to reducing the suffering and social marginalization associated with invisible illnesses through innovation, education, and data-driven change projects. Their core team includes board-certified health-care providers in Infectious Disease, Internal Medicine, Family Medicine, Psychiatry, Pharmacy, Pathology, and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, many trained at or affiliated with top-tier universities such as Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Brown, UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco, the US Air Force Academy, University of Virginia, and University of Pittsburgh.

You can sign up to receive news and updates at https://invisible.international/mission

Other related courses: Basic principles of diagnostic testingAntibiotic efficacy for treatment of Lyme diseaseThe impact of immune responses on diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease

Image credit: Happy Photon, iStock

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