Alumna’s Research Impacts Early Detection of Lyme Disease
In 2010, graduate student Melissa Shaw M’11 was researching ticks and disease at the university’s Northeast Wildlife DNA lab when a plan of at least national impact began to take shape. Periodically, she and other students would be asked to test ticks brought in by community residents for Lyme disease, which is prevalent in the Pocono region.
Shaw and faculty mentor Dr. Jane Huffman, distinguished professor of biology, came up with the idea to develop a tick-testing kit that would be available to the general public. Shaw developed a business plan and her vision won first place in ESU’s Student Business Plan Competition.
After many months of work with the staff of ESU’s division of Research and Economic Development, ESU signed a non-exclusive license agreement in April with Garrett Hewitt International LLC to commercialize Lyme-Aid, a kit for the general public to use to send suspicious ticks in to ESU’s Wildlife DNA Lab to determine whether or not a tick is a carrier of Lyme disease.
ESU licensed the trademark and negotiated a license fee in addition to a running royalty per unit, as Garret Hewitt identifies retailers to purchase and sell the product beginning this fall.
The intention is to have Lyme-Aid kits on sale in more than 20 states by this spring, so anyone can find out if a tick they’ve discovered on themselves or a pet might be a carrier for Lyme disease, before symptoms appear.
Each kit contains a patented tick remover, an alcohol wipe, a specimen bag, labels, a tick/Lyme test form and a pre-addressed envelope. Kits will include instructions on how to remove ticks and how to prepare each specimen for mailing to ESU’s lab.
Once a specimen arrives on campus, staff will test the tick using a fast and accurate molecular test that identifies the DNA of the Lyme-causing pathogen, and then quickly respond by email or phone to the person who sent in the specimen. The suggested retail cost of each kit will be $5.99, and the fee for testing each tick is $39.95.
Store locations and a website for kit orders will be announced this fall. Kits will be sold in a water-resistant plastic case that can be kept handy in a backpack, medicine cabinet or auto, or in fishing, camping, hunting and hiking gear.
Shaw said the kits can help doctors and veterinarians provide prompt treatment before symptoms appear or become severe. Results of the testing are quick and 99.9 percent accurate, she says. The kits can also prevent unnecessary treatment as help avoid side effects associated with antibiotic treatment.
Early detection of Lyme disease is important. Some symptoms may include paralysis of the face muscles; abnormal muscle movement; memory disorders; pain or swelling of joints; muscle weakness; nerve damage; heart palpitations; speech problems and sleep disorders.
Symptoms can be severe and persist for months or years after initial infection, and if left untreated, the disease can spread to the brain, heart and joints.
Lyme disease has also been reported in dogs, who experience symptoms similar to humans. In places where the disease is endemic, 41 percent or more of dogs have been reported to be infected.
For more information about Lyme-Aid, contact (570) 422-7885 or www.lymeaidkit.com.