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Press release

EU project to find vaccine against ticks

Brussels, 4 September 2013

European Union-funded researchers are launching a five-year project to find a vaccine against ticks to prevent them transmitting the diseases they carry to people they bite. The €3 million project is funded under the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7). The ultimate aim is to cut the incidence of diseases that affect thousands of people each year in Europe.

The bite of the tick Ixodes ricinus can cause Lyme disease, tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) and human babesiosis - all serious diseases that are more and more frequently encountered in Europe. According to a report by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) published last year, the number of TBE cases ranged in the past decade from 1900 to 2630 cases a year, with most cases occurring between July and October. Countries in Central Europe and around the Baltic Sea are particularly affected.

Rather than trying to develop vaccines for the individual diseases, the consortium, led by the Academic Medical Centre at the University of Amsterdam, will investigate a vaccine directed against the tick. Thus, a single vaccine could prevent transmission of multiple human pathogens from the tick to the host.

"Our aim is to deliver a 'proof of concept' in animal models with a clear idea of how we will proceed from there to a human vaccine," said Joppe Hovius of AMC. "In addition, our research will give us much more insight into the molecular mechanisms behind transmission of these pathogens."

The project is named ANTIDotE – ANti-tick vaccines to prevent TIck-borne Diseases in Europe – and will start in December 2013. The consortium consists of European experts in the field of Lyme disease, TBE, babesiosis and vaccinology. The researchers will investigate ways to interfere with the transmission of tick-borne pathogens from ticks to their hosts as well as ways to interfere with tick feeding.

The other participants are the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and Environment (The Netherlands), Institute of Parasitology, Biology Center of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic (Czech Republic), the Institute of Parasitology and Tropical Veterinary Medicine of the Free University of Berlin (Germany), Centre for Cooperative research in Biosciences (Spain), GenXPro (Germany) and the Institute of Virology of the Slovak Academy of Sciences (Slovak Republic).

Background

The project was presented and selected under the 2013 health call: "Neglected infectious diseases of Central and Eastern Europe".

Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) is a human viral infectious disease involving the central nervous system. TBE is most often manifested as a two-phased illness. The first phase is associated with symptoms like fever, fatigue, headache, muscular ache and nausea. The second phase involves the neurological system with symptoms of meningitis (inflammation of the membrane that surrounds the brain and spinal cord) and/or encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). The virus is transmitted by the bite of infected ticks, found in woodland habitats. A vaccine is available in some disease endemic areas.

Lyme borreliosis, also known as Lyme disease, is caused by different species of bacteria belonging to the genus Borrelia. The first manifestation of this disease is a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans. This rash begins at the site of a tick bite usually after a delay of one or two weeks. A distinctive feature of the rash is that it gradually expands peripherally over a period of several days. Most cases of Lyme borreliosis can be treated successfully with a few weeks of antibiotics, but if left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system.  No human vaccine against Lyme borreliosis is currently available.

Babesiosis is an illness caused by a parasite of the Babesia spp., which infects and destroys the red blood cells. While most infections pass by without symptoms, some people may become sick and present with flu-like symptoms like fever, chills, muscle ache, fatigue, as well as jaundice. Severe cases may occur in patients with an impaired immune system and lead to organ failure and death. Human babesiosis infection is treated with antibiotics and anti-parasitic drugs. There is no vaccine available.

For more information

ANTIDOTE

Tick Borne Diseases in Europe (source: ECDC)

Press contact

European Commission: Michael Jennings, Tel. +32 229 633 88 Twitter: @ECSpokesScience

ANTIDOTE project: pers@amc.uva.nl