New Haven - A University of New Haven researcher has found that the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease can form a substance that allows it to hide and survive harsh environments such as those created by antibiotic treatments.
"It is extremely resistant to harsh environmental conditions," Eva Sapi, associate professor of biology and environmental science, said Wednesday.
In a paper published Wednesday in the peer-reviewed international online journal PLOS ONE, Sapi said that Lyme disease bacteria, carried by infected ticks, can form "biofilms" that allow it to hide and remain dormant until an environment is favorable again. Biofilms are slimy substances that form on surfaces that are in contact with water.
Sapi said her research was done in test tubes and that the next phase will be to study whether the biofilms can be found in tissues infected by the bacteria. She will examine the bacteria in tick samples and in infected mouse and human tissues to determine whether the biofilms help the bacteria to survive and spread.
The research might have implications for the treatment of Lyme disease, she said, but it is too soon to say until further research is completed. The findings might also have applications for the diagnosis of Lyme disease, she added.
In her paper, Sapi wrote that the bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, continuously rearranges its structure.
Sapi had been a cancer researcher at Yale University before joining the University of New Haven faculty in 2001, the university said in a news release. After a bout with an illness that doctors told her might be Lyme disease, she shifted the focus of her research, the release said. She has been studying Lyme disease for the past eight years.
First discovered in Connecticut in 1975 and named for the town of Lyme, it is the most prevalent tick-borne disease in the country.