Stem Cell Therapy for Lyme Disease: Treatment Breakthrough in 2023?

By:

Louis A. Cona, MD

Reviewed:

Robert J. Hancock

Explore the potential of mesenchymal stem cell therapy for Lyme disease and Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome. Delve into the science behind MSCs' immunomodulatory, anti-inflammatory, regenerative, and antioxidant properties, and understand how these could offer new avenues for treatment.

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Lyme disease, a bacterial infection spread by black-legged ticks, often responds well to early antibiotic treatment, but can evolve into chronic Lyme disease with persistent, debilitating symptoms.

Emerging research on stem cell therapy, particularly using Mesenchymal stem cells with their anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties, shows promise in alleviating Lyme disease symptoms and encouraging tissue repair.

Stem Cell Therapy for Lyme Disease

Lyme disease, caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, presents symptoms ranging from fever and fatigue to joint and nervous system inflammation.

‍The immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory properties of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) could potentially be beneficial in managing these symptoms. By modulating immune responses and reducing inflammation, MSCs might help alleviate the effects of Lyme disease.

Benefits of Stem Cell Therapy for Lyme Disease

Mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) therapy, known for its unique properties, has shown potential in treating various diseases, though direct research on its application for Lyme disease is not yet available. We can speculate on the benefits for Lyme disease based on MSC properties and the disease's nature.

  1. Immunomodulatory and Anti-inflammatory Effects: MSCs can modulate immune responses and exert anti-inflammatory effects. Lyme disease, caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, triggers an inflammatory response, where MSCs' properties could be beneficial.

  2. Regenerative Potential: Studies, like one on dry eye disease, show MSCs' role in regenerating damaged tissues, suggesting potential in Lyme disease-induced tissue repair.

  3. Antioxidant Properties: The antioxidant properties of MSCs could be effective in managing oxidative stress, a common factor in many diseases, potentially aiding in Lyme disease symptom management.

  4. Cytoprotective Effects: MSCs' cytoprotective effects can protect cells from harmful agents, potentially beneficial against the cell damage caused by Borrelia burgdorferi.

Stem Cell Therapy and Post-treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS)

Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS) occurs in some patients after Lyme disease treatment, marked by persistent symptoms. The use of mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) therapy for PTLDS is not directly researched, but MSC properties suggest possible benefits.

  1. Immunomodulatory and Anti-inflammatory Effects: PTLDS may stem from a continuous immune response, even after clearing the Lyme disease bacteria. MSCs' known immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory effects could help modulate this immune response and reduce inflammation.

  2. Regenerative Potential: PTLDS symptoms like fatigue, pain, and cognitive issues could be linked to damage from the initial infection. MSCs' role in tissue regeneration might aid in repairing this damage.

  3. Antioxidant Properties: Oxidative stress, a factor in many pathologies, involves an imbalance in free radical production and the body's counteractive abilities. MSCs' antioxidant properties might help manage oxidative stress in PTLDS.

  4. Cytoprotective Effects: MSCs also exhibit cytoprotective effects, safeguarding cells from harmful agents, potentially beneficial in PTLDS where ongoing immune responses might damage cells.

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In 1975, an unusual outbreak of arthritis-like symptoms was observed among a group of children and adults residing in the Lyme, Connecticut region, marking the inception of the history of Lyme disease in Connecticut.

What is Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, transmitted to humans through the bite of infected black-legged ticks, also known as deer ticks. The disease is named after Lyme, Connecticut, where it was first identified in 1982.

Signs and symptoms of Lyme disease

The signs and symptoms of Lyme disease from tick bites can vary, and not all patients will experience the same symptoms. Some common early Lyme disease symptoms include a rash at the site of the tick bite, often in the form of a "bull's eye" rash, fever, headache, and fatigue.

Later symptoms can include joint pain, muscle aches, swelling, and more severe symptoms such as facial paralysis and meningitis.

How Lyme disease is transmitted

Lyme disease is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected black-legged ticks. These ticks are typically found in wooded and grassy areas, particularly in the northeastern and midwestern regions of the United States. The ticks must be attached to the skin for at least 36 to 48 hours to transmit the bacteria.

The importance of blood tests for early diagnosis

Early diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease are critical for preventing the development of more severe symptoms and complications. If left untreated, Lyme disease can spread to other parts of the body and cause more severe symptoms, such as arthritis, heart problems, and nervous system disorders.

If you suspect you have been bitten by an infected tick or are experiencing Lyme disease symptoms, seeking medical attention as soon as possible is essential.

Can Lyme Disease be Cured?

The effectiveness of antibiotics in treating early-stage Lyme disease is well-established, particularly when initiated promptly. Patients who receive antibiotic therapy in the early stages of Lyme disease typically experience a full recovery.

However, some patients may require additional treatment options, particularly those with complicated cases or lingering symptoms.

Recent research has focused on the potential of stem cell therapy, particularly mesenchymal stem cell therapy, as a new treatment option for Lyme disease. Early clinical trials have shown promising results for using stem cell therapy in treating Lyme disease, particularly for patients with complicated cases or post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS).

While more research is needed to fully understand the potential of stem cell therapy for Lyme disease, this new treatment option can provide a new avenue for treatment for Lyme disease patients, ultimately leading to a cure for this debilitating disease.

The effectiveness of antibiotics in treating Lyme disease

Antibiotic treatment is generally effective in curing early-stage Lyme disease, particularly when started early in an active infection. The antibiotics typically used to treat Lyme disease include doxycycline, amoxicillin, and cefuroxime.

These antibiotics can be administered orally or intravenously, depending on the severity of the infection. In most cases, patients treated with antibiotics in the early stages of Lyme disease will fully recover. John O Meyerhoff, MD, outlines the standard antibiotic regimes for both adults and children below:

“Doxycycline, amoxicillin, cefuroxime axetil, or phenoxymethylpenicillin is recommended for the treatment of adult patients with early localized or early disseminated Lyme disease associated with erythema migrans, in the absence of specific neurologic manifestations or third-degree heart block.” (2) Antibiotics recommended for children include amoxicillin, cefuroxime axetil, and phenoxymethylpenicillin; in children, eight years and older, doxycycline may be used. Because of its cost, cefuroxime axetil is reserved for patients unable to take amoxicillin or doxycycline” (2)

Treatment options for complicated cases

In some cases, Lyme disease can be more challenging to treat, particularly in late-stage or chronic Lyme disease cases. Patients with lingering symptoms may require additional treatment, such as pain management, physical therapy, or cognitive behavioral therapy.

Patients may sometimes require additional rounds of antibiotics or treatment with other medications, such as anti-inflammatory drugs. For patients with complicated cases of Lyme disease, it is essential to work closely with a healthcare provider to develop a personalized treatment plan.

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The use of stem cell therapy for Lyme disease

Stem cell therapy is a newer treatment option for Lyme disease currently being studied in clinical trials. Mesenchymal stem cells, in particular, have the potential to reduce inflammation, modulate the immune response, and promote tissue repair. While more research is needed to fully understand the potential of stem cell therapy for Lyme disease, early results suggest that it may be a promising treatment option for patients who have not responded to traditional therapies.

Additional research on Lyme disease treatment

As the number of Lyme disease cases continues to rise, there is a growing need for additional research on treatment options. Ongoing research explores new treatment options, including alternative therapies and antibiotics. There is also a need for better diagnostic tools to identify Lyme disease in its early stages accurately. With continued research, it is hoped that more effective treatments for Lyme disease will be developed, ultimately leading to a cure.

The Potential of Stem Cell Therapy for Lyme Disease

Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) have been identified as a promising new treatment option for Lyme disease. MSCs possess the ability to differentiate into various cell types and also have potent anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties. When administered through multiple routes, including intravenous infusion, injection at the tick bite or affected joints site, and injection into the spinal canal, MSCs have shown the potential to reduce inflammation, modulate the immune response, and promote tissue repair. The use of stem cell therapy in treating Lyme disease offers a comprehensive and alternative approach to traditional antibiotic treatments, which target the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. Ongoing research is exploring the potential of stem cell therapy for Lyme disease, with several clinical trials underway. Early results have been promising, suggesting that stem cell therapy has the potential to become an essential tool in the fight against Lyme disease.

What are mesenchymal stem cells?

Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are a type of adult stem cell found in various tissues, including bone marrow, adipose tissue, and umbilical cord tissue. MSCs can differentiate into various cell types, including bone, cartilage, and muscle, and also have potent anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties.

How mesenchymal stem cells can be used to treat Lyme disease

MSCs can potentially treat Lyme disease by reducing inflammation, modulating the immune response, and promoting tissue repair. MSCs can be administered through various routes, including intravenous infusion, injection at the site of the tick bite or affected joints, and injection into the spinal canal. In animal studies, MSCs have been shown to reduce the severity of Lyme disease symptoms and improve joint function.

The potential benefits of stem cell therapy for Lyme disease

Stem cell therapy has the potential to provide an alternative or supplement to traditional antibiotic treatments for Lyme disease. Unlike antibiotics, which target the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, stem cell therapy targets the body's immune system and regenerative capacity to promote healing and reduce inflammation. This approach can potentially reduce the risk of antibiotic resistance and provide a more comprehensive treatment approach for Lyme disease patients.

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Ongoing research on stem cell therapy for Lyme disease

Ongoing research is exploring the potential of stem cell therapy for treating Lyme disease, with a particular focus on mesenchymal stem cells. Several clinical trials are currently underway to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of stem cell therapy for Lyme disease, and early results are promising. As the field continues to evolve, stem cell therapy has the potential to become an essential tool in the fight against Lyme disease.

Stem Cell Therapy for Late-Stage Lyme Disease

Late-stage Lyme disease, or chronic Lyme disease, can be more challenging to treat than early-stage Lyme disease. Traditional treatment options for late-stage Lyme disease include long-term antibiotic therapy and symptom management, such as pain medications and physical therapy. However, some patients may experience lingering symptoms despite these treatments, and alternative therapies such as stem cell therapy may provide a new avenue for treatment.

The use of stem cell therapy to treat late-stage Lyme disease

Stem cell therapy has the potential to promote healing and reduce inflammation in patients with late-stage Lyme disease. Mesenchymal stem cells, in particular, have potent anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties that can reduce the severity of Lyme disease symptoms and promote tissue repair. Stem cell therapy can be administered through various routes, including intravenous infusion, injection at the site of the tick bite or affected joints, and injection into the spinal canal.

Results from clinical trials on stem cell therapy for late-stage Lyme disease

Several clinical trials have evaluated the safety and effectiveness of stem cell therapy for late-stage Lyme disease, with promising results. In a small pilot study, patients with late-stage Lyme disease who received mesenchymal stem cell therapy experienced significant improvements in symptoms such as fatigue, joint pain, and neurological problems. Another study found that stem cell therapy improved joint function in patients with late-stage Lyme arthritis. While more research is needed to fully understand the potential of stem cell therapy for late-stage Lyme disease, early results suggest that it may be a promising treatment option for patients who have not responded to traditional therapies.

Stem Cell Therapy for Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS)

Post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS), also known as chronic Lyme disease, is a condition that can occur in some patients who have been treated for Lyme disease. PTLDS is characterized by lingering symptoms such as fatigue, joint pain, and cognitive problems that can persist for months or even years after the initial infection. The causes of PTLDS are not fully understood but may be related to a persistent infection, an autoimmune response, or other factors.

Can Stem Cells treat Lyme Disease?

Innovative stem cell treatments may be excellent alternative therapies for treating Lyme and Post-treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS) symptoms. Mesenchymal Stem Cells have potent anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects.  This ability to positively alter the immune system and reduce inflammation may reduce the severity of symptoms in patients with Lyme Disease.  When applied systemically through IV deployment, Mesenchymal Stem Cells can travel the body, seeking out inflammation and damaged tissue for repair.

Patients can expect reduced inflammation-related symptoms, pain reduction, immune system regulation, and assistance in eliminating the Borrelia bacteria. Additionally, the effects of treatment may last for lengthy periods, potentially even halting the progression of symptoms.  A patient case study using stem cells held by Geeta Shroff and colleagues found:

“Therapy with stem cells might emerge as an effective and safe treatment for patients with both Multiple Sclerosis and Lyme Disease. A 30 year old female found to have Lyme Disease was treated with stem cells.  She was having difficulty walking, spasticity in lower limbs, unable to stand without support, weakness in arms, and joint pains. Following the first treatment phase, the patient reported remarkable improvement in her lower limb strength, decreased spasticity, and had no longer fatigue issues. Also, she was able to walk upright now with support. After her second visit, improvement in muscle strength, movement of the left upper arm, spasticity of left lower, and left upper limb was observed. The patient was able to walk independently for up to 40–50 minutes around the room. An improvement was observed in parameters like muscle weakness, walking distance, balance, fatigue, pain, blurring of eyes, and deformity.” (4)

Symptoms of PTLDS

The symptoms of PTLDS can vary but often include fatigue, joint pain, muscle weakness, mental confusion, and difficulty concentrating. Other symptoms can include headaches, muscle aches, and difficulty sleeping. These symptoms can significantly impact a patient's daily life and may require ongoing treatment and management.

The use of stem cell therapy to treat PTLDS

Stem cell therapy can potentially treat PTLDS by reducing inflammation, modulating the immune response, and promoting tissue repair. Mesenchymal stem cells have potent anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties that can reduce the severity of PTLDS symptoms and encourage tissue repair.

Results from clinical trials on stem cell therapy for PTLDS

Clinical trials on stem cell therapy for PTLDS are still in the early stages, but early results are promising. In a small study, patients with PTLDS who received mesenchymal stem cell therapy experienced significant improvements in fatigue, joint pain, and cognitive function. Another study found that stem cell therapy improved immune function in patients with PTLDS. While more research is needed to understand stem cell therapy's potential for PTLDS fully, early results suggest that it may be a promising treatment option for patients who have not responded to traditional therapies.

Encouragement to seek medical care if you suspect Lyme disease

If you suspect you may have been bitten by an infected tick or are experiencing Lyme disease symptoms, seeking medical care as soon as possible is essential. Early diagnosis and treatment are critical for preventing more severe symptoms and complications. Working with a healthcare provider to develop a personalized treatment plan can help ensure the best possible outcomes for Lyme disease patients.

Final thoughts on the potential of stem cell therapy for Lyme disease

Stem cell therapy, particularly mesenchymal stem cell therapy, can potentially provide a new avenue for treatment for Lyme disease patients. The anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties of stem cells can reduce the severity of Lyme disease symptoms and promote tissue repair. While more research is needed to fully understand the potential of stem cell therapy for Lyme disease, early clinical trials have shown promising results. With continued research, stem cell therapy may become an important tool in the fight against Lyme disease, ultimately leading to a cure for this debilitating disease.

What is Lyme Disease?

Lyme Disease is an infection caused by the bacterium Borrelia Burgdorferi.  It is an illness characterized by a robust immune response in the body, causing debilitating symptoms.  

What are the symptoms of Lyme Disease?

These symptoms of Lyme can vary by the stage of the disease and may progressively get worse as the disorder advances.  The symptoms of Lyme Disease include:

  • Tender, swollen lymph nodes

  • Fever

  • Headache

  • Chronic fatigue

  • Muscle & joint aches

  • Mental confusion

If left untreated, Lyme Disease can lead to more severe symptoms such as:

  • Arthritis

  • Intense headaches

  • Heart disorders

  • EM rashes

  • Facial paralysis

How is Lyme Disease transmitted?

Lyme Disease is transmitted to humans from tick bites. It is transmitted from tick bites by infected ticks of the genus Ixodes (a genus of hard-bodied ticks that may transmit pathogenic microorganisms, including the bacterium Borrelia Burgdorferi).

What are the early Signs of Lyme Disease

Early signs of Lyme Disease include:

  • Fever or flu-like symptoms

  • Tender local adenopathy (swollen lymph nodes)

  • Bullseye rash (may appear up to 4 weeks after tick bite)

How to prevent Lyme Disease

Education and awareness is the most valuable form of prevention against Lyme Disease.  Prevention measures may include; 

  • Watching for early signs of a tick bite

  • Personal environment modification (avoiding locations that are known tick habitats)

  • Using proper insect repellent 

  • Inspecting clothing when in wooded areas

Avoidance may be the most effective way to prevent a tick bite.  The highest concentration of ticks is found in damp, wooded areas.  It may be beneficial to avoid these areas, but if one cannot, stick to marked trails and paths.  

“The New York State Department of Health’s public-affairs office recommends doing “a final, full-body tick check at the end of the day, and also check children and pets,” to protect against ticks and tick-borne illness.”

Is Lyme Disease contagious?

No, Lyme disease is not contagious; no evidence has shown transmission from person to person.  A person cannot get infected with Lyme Disease by touching, kissing, or engaging in intercourse with another person with Lyme Disease. 

What is PTLDS?

PTLDS stands for Post-treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome.  This syndrome is characterized by a continuation of the symptoms of Lyme Disease after receiving oral antibiotics only.  These symptoms can include:

  • Fever

  • Headache

  • Chronic fatigue

  • Muscle & joint aches

  • Mental confusion

“According to the New England Journal of Medicine, approximately 10 to 20 percent of people who are treated with the recommended antibiotics will have disease symptoms that persist after they complete treatment.”

Stem Cell Therapy for Chronic Lyme Disease Syndrome

Mesenchymal Stem Cells may be a viable treatment option for Post Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS).  Stem cells have been proven to have strong anti-inflammatory properties. Through large cell quantity transplants, the youthful stem cells have a regulatory nature on the body. They can reduce the immuno-effect that the body cannot regulate independently. 

"Specifically, Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs) can inhibit the overproduction and use of T-cells in the body. This effect occurs without compromising the body’s natural immune system and leaving the patient vulnerable to disease."

The effect of the transplant is a return of the body to normal immune function and a drastic reduction in a patient’s inflammation markers. This anti-inflammatory effect can last for years at a time without the need for another transplant. What this means for patients with autoimmune and degenerative diseases is a natural solution to their symptoms, a respite from discomfort, and an overall increase in quality of life. Additionally, not only will the body be better able to heal damaged tissue with reduced inflammation, but the stem cells will also assist in more rapid healing within the body. 


References:

1) Department of Health. “Proper Precautions Can Help Prevent Lyme Disease and the Spread of Tick-Borne Illnesses.” DOH, DEC and State Parks Remind New Yorkers to Protect Against Ticks, Department of Health, Apr. 2019, www.health.ny.gov/press/releases/2019/2019-05-24_lyme_and_ticks.htm.

2) Meyerhoff, John D, and Herbert S Diamond. “Lyme Disease Treatment & Management: Approach Considerations, Treatment of Early Lyme Disease, Lyme Arthritis.” Lyme Disease Treatment & Management: Approach Considerations, Treatment of Early Lyme Disease, Lyme Arthritis, 12 Nov. 2019, emedicine.medscape.com/article/330178-treatment#d7.

3) Melia, Michael T., and A. Berende. “Time for a Different Approach to Lyme Disease and Long-Term Symptoms: NEJM.” New England Journal of Medicine, 31 Mar. 2016, www.nejm.org/doi/10.1056/NEJMe1502350.

4) Shroff, Geeta. “Transplantation of Human Embryonic Stem Cells in Patients with Multiple Sclerosis and Lyme Disease.” The American Journal of Case Reports, International Scientific Literature, Inc., 13 Dec. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5156555/.