Lyme Disease is categorized as an emerging infectious disease. What this means is that lyme disease is becoming more dangerous. Despite our advances in medical science, lyme disease has increased in prevalence over the last 20 years. Spread most commonly through the bite of a tick, lyme disease is something that can be treated in its early stages with simple antibiotic regimens. However, should it not be caught soon enough or dealt with sufficiently, lyme disease can turn into a disabling illness that is difficult to successfully treat.
The disease can cause a variety of symptoms ranging from a simple rash and fever to less common cardiac complications and neurological problems. However, if lyme disease progresses to a chronic stage, it can trigger problems such as arthritis, myocarditis (an inflammation of the heart muscles), meningoencephalitis (an infection of the brain and surrounding tissues) and a wide array of neurological problems. Due to variances in the bacteria that lead to lyme disease, though, it's virtually impossible to predict how the disease will infect the human body. Each case varies.
Mitchell Kronenberg, Ph.D., and his lab have made a critical finding regarding this disease. They discovered that the bacteria that causes lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi, contains a certain glycolipid (a cell-signaling molecule) which will activate the body's Natural Killer T cells (NKT cells). These NKT cells are valuable soldiers in the body's defense system, and are known for fast and effective attacks against infection in the body. The discovery was made even more important because the bacteria that activates the NKT cells is one of only three substances known to naturally induce this response from the body.
Scientists are now hopeful that the discovery of this crucial part of Lyme Disease will enable the creation of a vaccine for the virus. The Kronenberg lab also discovered, in 2005, that the Sphingomonas bacteria contains another glycolipid that activates the NKT response.