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Lyme Disease research gives hope to patients

Updated: Jun. 2, 2021 at 6:08 PM EDT
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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) - Lyme Disease cases are climbing across the country, but there are still many challenges when it comes to diagnosing and treating patients.

“You’re never cured, you aren’t cured from Lyme Disease. The best that you can hope for is remission,” Dari Cupp said.

Eight years ago, Dari Cupp was a healthy wife and mother. Then suddenly her life turned upside down.

“And I realize my face, just like right now isn’t moving,” Cupp said.

Cupp didn’t know it at the time, but that was one of her first symptoms of Lyme Disease. The Christiansburg native was living in North Carolina and her doctors still did not know much about the illness.

“He tells me that Lyme Disease is very rare and that it is not present in North Carolina,” she said.

It took her months to get diagnosed and even now with treatment there are many ups and downs, with symptoms like Bell’s Palsy hitting her at any time.

“All of a sudden you can just be swept off your feet,” Cupp said.

Scientists at Virginia Tech are conducting research they hope helps patients like Cupp.

“So this is the primary lab space where we work with Borrelia burgdorferi. So that’s the bacterium that causes Lyme Disease,” researcher Brandon Jutras said.

That bacterium is found in blacklegged ticks. Jutras has been studying it about a decade.

“It always feels like the tip of the iceberg to be honest, because you make one discovery and often that leads to more questions,” Jutras said.

Just recently his lab identified a new protein found inside the cell wall of the bacterium that causes Lyme Disease.

“So a lot of the work that we do is understanding what happens inside the bacteria,” he said.

The question now is how can they create markers that could allow doctors to more accurately test and treat the disease.

“Keep up hope that we are not too far away from figuring out a lot of these things, and that knowledge can translate into real world problem solving,” he said.

And that’s exactly what patients like Cupp are doing.

“You know this is new, and wonderful and exciting,” she said.

According to the CDC, upwards of hundreds of thousands of people are diagnosed and treated for Lyme Disease in the United States every year.

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