New Hope for Lyme Disease: a Protein in Our Sweat

Discovery could someday lead to a topical cream
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 30, 2024 2:19 PM CDT
Natural Protection From Lyme May Be in Our Sweat
A blacklegged tick, also known as a deer tick, is a carrier of Lyme disease.   (CDC via AP, File)

A protein in human sweat might help people ward off tick-borne Lyme disease, a new study published in Nature Communications says. Live Science and NBC News break down the findings, which center around the discovery of a genetic variant of the protein that appears to make people more susceptible.

  • Best case: Down the road, this could theoretically lead to a topical cream people could apply—think "lyme block" instead of sunblock, as NBC puts it.

  • A third genetic marker: Scientists previously knew of two other genetic variants that were linked with a higher risk of Lyme disease. But after analyzing enormous datasets of genetic information from Finland (via the FinnGen project) and the Estonian Biobank, a third was discovered, secretoglobin SCGB1D2, which is mostly found in sweat glands. Most people (60%) have a standard version of SCGB1D2, but those with a mutated version are at significantly greater risk for developing Lyme.
  • The tests: Per MIT News, the researchers ran a series of lab-dish experiments where standard and mutated versions of SCGB1D2 were exposed to Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease via tick vectors. The normal version of the protein inhibited it from growing, but in the mutated version, twice as much protein was needed to fight it. They exposed mice to the bacteria, and none with the standard protein developed Lyme disease, but mice with the mutated version did.
  • Future treatments: Understanding the role of SCGB1D2 in Lyme disease could provide insights into treatment resistance and long-term health issues in some patients. "This protein may provide some protection from Lyme disease, and we think there are real implications here for a preventative and possibly a therapeutic based on this protein," says Tal.
(More Lyme disease stories.)

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