Czech scientists announce discovery in battle against ticks

Фото: Барбора Кментова

Scientists in the Czech city of České Budějovice say they have discovered a protein that may reduce the appetite of ticks for human blood. Ticks have become an increasing problem in the summer months, and can carry Lyme’s disease as well as encephalitis, both of which can prove very dangerous to human health. Dominik Jůn has the story:

Every summer in the Czech Republic, a particular panic grips the country. In part, the panic is fuelled by the media, but the warnings conveyed of the potential dangers posed by tick bites are very real. The tiny creatures usually crawl up your legs as you walk through grassy wilderness. They latch onto you and suck your blood – gruesome though that is, the real danger is presented by the risk of the tick passing on Lyme’s disease or encephalitis - the latter could and occasionally does prove fatal if left untreated. With global climate change, it also appears that the Czech Republic is witnessing more and more ticks and a far longer tick season than a decade ago.

Every year between 70 and 100 Czechs are reported to catch tick-born encephalitis, while around 300 cases of Lyme’s disease are diagnosed, while doctors warn that many more escape diagnosis. Treatment for both can be grueling and drawn out – while a commercial vaccine has been available for encephalitis for some time. However, now scientists in České Budějovice may have a better solution.

A team at the University of Bohemia has discovered a protein called Feritin 2, which ticks use to help digest iron in the blood. The team found that if the protein was injected into other animals, they developed antibodies to Feritin 2. It is these antibodies that scientists believe could form the basis of a potential vaccine – one that would essentially sour the milk for ticks feasting on blood, before they were able to pass on any diseases to their hosts. The vaccine would work to inhibit the tick’s own ability to process iron – the antibodies ingested from its host would in effect prevent it from continuing in its parasitic activities.

Dr Ondřej Hajdůšek of the Department of Parasitology at the Academy of Sciences in the University of Bohemia is a key member of the team behind this discovery. I asked him what stage the test had reached:

“At the moment, we are working on cattle. We have also started some vaccination trials on rabbits and guinea pigs and we want to see if we can reduce the number of ticks that bite these creatures. We have also sent this protein to Mexico, because farmers over there have great problems with the number of ticks that are feeding on their cows and we would like to help them reduce this problem.”

And how far along the road are scientists with regards to creating a human vaccine?

“I think that we should have some initial results in one or two years. We believe that there is the potential to use this drug on humans and of course we would like to try to see if this vaccine might reduce or inhibit transmission of Lyme’s disease from the tick to the host.”