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A New Hope in the Fight Against Lyme Disease

Updated: Nov 14, 2022

I'm off to the Florida to attend the International Lyme and Associated Disease Society, aka ILADs, annual U.S. medical conference this week (full discloser, I am on the Board of Directors of ILADs). Just in time for the conference, big news is circling the lyme community.

A team headed by Dr. Kim Lewis at Northeastern University announced that they have found an antibiotic to fight Lyme and other spirochete bacteria: Hygromycin A. Read their full announcement here.

This is exciting news, as it is the first research announcement on lyme treatment in years. Here's a little more information about the development.

Hygromycin A isn’t a new drug,. It was developed in the 1950s and initially for use to treat dysentery in pigs, but was eventually abandoned. Doomed to sit on a shelf and collect dust, it was long since forgotten when Dr. Lewis and company began experimenting with it.

Warning: Medical Jargon Ahead

The compound in use here binds to the ribosome: 23S rRNA in the catalytic peptidyl transferase center - a common location for antibiotics, so not specific to the Lyme bacteria. In this case, the team postulates that this compound is smuggled (their words not mine, but I highly appreciate the pirate-y nature) into spirochete bacteria via a specific transporter (transporter BmpDEFG to be exact if you must know the alphabet soup). This transporter seems to be pretty darn specific to the creation of spirochetes, making it potentially highly effective at killing off that class of bacteria.

What does this mean? Well, this medicine seems to be highly selective for borrelia species (which means not only Lyme but other borrelia such as TBRF or lyme’s more famous cousin - syphilis), while avoiding other microbes like all the good bacteria in your gut. In fact, their initial work is showing very low activity against the gut healthy gut flora. This is potentially a double helping of good news, as our current medications can be highly disruptive to the good gang in our gut, leading to other issues if not addressed.

But WAIT! There's more! In mouse models Hygromycin A worked orally and was not toxic even at very high doses, potentially making it a very safe, very selective medication.

The catch? It’s not available for humans…. yet. No word on when (or if) any human studies will emerge. Until then, my fingers (and my toes) are crossed for Hygromycin A.

I’ll give it an A+

Dr. Casey Kelley

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