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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Health Note/Tick Spit

Air Date: Week of August 23, 2002

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Living on Earth’s Diane Toomey reports that researchers are examining the ingredients of tick saliva to create a vaccine against Lyme disease.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Coming up, a case for turning out the lights. But first, this Environmental Health Note from Diane Toomey.

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TOOMEY: Tick saliva is complicated stuff. It contains more than 400 proteins designed to make it easier to suck blood from a human. Some of these proteins suppress pain response. Others increase blood flow to the area and even prevent the body’s immune system from attacking the tick.

But researchers at the University of Rhode Island hope to use tick spit as the basis for a vaccine against tick-borne diseases, including Lyme disease. Here’s how. A vaccine might be able to train your body’s immune system to recognize certain molecules in tick saliva. For instance, a vaccine containing the proteins that inhibit pain response would train your immune system to disable those proteins. So when a tick bit, you’d feel the pinch, promptly remove the little arthropod, and protect yourself against Lyme disease. That’s because it usually takes a full 24 hours for Lyme bacteria to travel from the tick’s gut into its saliva.

Researchers are now in the process of screening saliva proteins for promising vaccine candidates. And how do you get saliva from a tick? You put one on a microscope slide, put its mouth into a capillary tube, and then administer one drop of a muscle relaxant onto its back. In about ten minutes, the tick begins to drool into the tube. That’s this week’s Health Update. I’m Diane Toomey.

[THEME MUSIC OUT]

CURWOOD: And you’re listening to Living on Earth.

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Links

University of Rhode Island press release

 

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