What is InfectoLab and why was it set up?
InfectoLab was originally founded in Germany by Dr. Carsten Nicolaus, who also runs the BCA-clinic in Augsburg. It specializes in tick-borne diseases such as Lyme, and has had great success in Germany. Now, we have established InfectoLab in the U.S. as Lyme disease is on the rise, and we would like to provide comprehensive lab work for health care providers all over the country.
As a doctor, what made you become interested in specializing in Lyme disease?
I got my PhD in cell biology and worked for the past eight years in immunology research, while also studying various strands of lab test development. My interest in Lyme disease came up when I was working at my old company to develop new and improved ELISpots (the standard test for Lyme, which examines the patient for the borrelia bacteria) for diagnostic purposes. My interest is more in the scientific aspect than the treatment aspect of Lyme.
What are the goals for InfectoLab moving forward?
The first goal is to get the ELISpot to the market within the next two months (from September 2018). Then we need to get traction with customers while simultaneously expanding the testing portfolio.
What is the state of Lyme in the U.S. in 2018 as you see it?
It seems to be spreading and is undoubtedly worsening. The tick population has increased, especially here in the midwest. Ticks can now be found in every state in mainland America, but unfortunately, many Americans still think you can only contract Lyme on the northeast coast.
“The tick population has increased, especially here in the midwest. Ticks can now be found in every state in mainland America.”
Have we made progress over the last few years?
I think the diagnostics seem to be slowly improving. Furthermore, the awareness of Lyme is also growing, which helps the general public get familiar with the condition and keeps it in their minds. Here in the midwest, doctors ask often about Lyme. These are positive signs, and with test diagnostic tools improving every year, we are more able to pinpoint Lyme cases and treat them accordingly.
Do people underestimate Lyme disease, and if so, why do you think that is?
I am not sure if they do. But part of it is that there’s not always the best information about it out there, and in the U.S. some health care providers use the terms ‘Lyme disease’ and ‘chronic Lyme’ loosely. This leads to a general misunderstanding about Lyme, which has muddied the waters for both patients and doctors alike.
Why do you think the CDC still refuses to properly acknowledge chronic Lyme?
Honestly, I do not know why. My guess is that it has to do with bad research on Lyme. Firstly, there are a lot of hypotheses about it and doctors seem to accept those as facts without going the extra mile and conducting proper clinical studies. And second, chronic Lyme is actually accepted by the CDC. I got validated samples from them, and they declared some to be chronic Lyme, neuroborreliosis and others.
I think bashing the CDC is standard. But there is the issue that the CDC needs proper scientific proof for official statements and the research done on Lyme is lukewarm at best. As an immunologist, I think a lot of stuff is interpreted as extrapolation of what people read about research of other diseases – “Oh, in disease XYZ it is like this, so Lyme has to do the same”, and often that may be wrong. In the Lyme field, scientific and immunological terms get thrown around a lot, but in improper context. And people do not seem to understand that.
“With test diagnostic tools improving every year, we are more able to pinpoint Lyme disease cases and treat them accordingly.”
Can you give an example of this type of misunderstanding?
When I was working for my old company, at a Lyme meeting people kept saying what awesome things they could tell from the results of our test. And yet none of it was actually what you can do with that test. But this person kept telling me that she could see immune imbalances with it in the positive control. Which is utter nonsense, because the positive control is just there to see that the sample is OK to use, and that the test technically worked. When I tried to explain to her how the positive control works and how T-cells work, she seemed to not be able to grasp the basic principle of adaptive immunology. But she was convinced she could read immune imbalances into our tests and use it for treatment. So I believe there is constant miscommunication and misunderstanding in the conversation between the CDC and health care providers, like the example I gave, but occurring on a much bigger level.
The CDC uses proper terms and bases publications only on proven studies and facts. Combined with misleading nomenclature in the Lyme field and the lack of proper scientific acceptable studies, the CDC cannot just say what everybody else is saying unless it is proven. So I think that is a large part of the problem.
Do you have any advice for patients who are worried they might be suffering from Lyme disease?
I would recommend to go to a doctor, get checked for symptoms and get some proper lab work.