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Local Researchers On Brink Of Treatment To Prevent Lyme Disease

BOSTON (CBS) - Here in New England we are at a higher risk of getting Lyme disease. Despite the danger there is no vaccine. But UMass researchers are closing in on a treatment that could prevent the debilitating illness.

It's an illness Jennifer Crystal knows all too well. It took eight years of feeling rundown with flu-like symptoms before Jennifer was finally diagnosed with Lyme disease. "Basically lost the whole second half of my twenties to Lyme disease," Jennifer explained. She was bedridden for months at a time, she had to quit her job, and move back in with her parents. "It was hard to get up a flight of stairs, I couldn't empty the dishwasher, I mean basic tasks," she said.

Even after the official diagnosis and treatment Jennifer relapsed. "It was the worst time of my life," she said.

Lyme Prep
Lyme PReP at MassBiologics Lab (WBZ-TV)

Jennifer is now writing a book on how Lyme disease robbed her of her strength and independence for well over a decade. "It would be wonderful for people to be able to be protected from Lyme," Jennifer said.

And that is the goal of Dr. Mark Klempner of UMass Medical School. Dr. Klempner and his team of researchers at the MassBiologics Lab in Mattapan are on the brink of a treatment that would prevent Lyme disease.

"We would intend to give this at the early part of ... Lyme disease season. The trick is to be able to make the antibody last long enough after a single injection that will cover the entire risk period of about six or seven months," said Dr. Klempner.

Lyme Prep
Researcher at MassBiologics Lab working on Lyme PReP (WBZ-TV)

It's called Lyme PReP and this is not a vaccine. Instead researchers have identified the specific antibody that would defend your body against Lyme disease if bitten by an infected tick. "We think that this is a really safe approach.  In mice, it is incredibly effective, 100% effective," explained Dr. Klempner.

And it provides immediate protection.  Protection that is clearly needed. According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health there were 16,123 confirmed and probable cases of Lyme disease in Massachusetts between 2013 and 2015. Dr. Klempner says he's "cautiously very confident" that Lyme PReP could be an effective way to prevent Lyme disease within a few years. Human trials could start as early as next spring.

Jennifer is now feeling good but she's still taking medication every day to keep the Lyme disease in remission. "If this could be prevented that would be a miracle," Jennifer said. A miracle of modern medicine that might not be far off.

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