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$2.4M Grant Funds UAMS Study on Tick-Borne Fever Bacterium

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UAMS on Monday announced it has received a $2.4 million federal grant to study the bacterium that causes tick-borne relapsing fever, research that could reveal possible drug targets.

Jon Blevins, a professor in the College of Medicine Department of Microbiology and Immunology, is leading the four-year study funded by the National Institutes of Health. He and a collaborator have developed methods and tools to genetically manipulate the bacterium, Borrelia turicatae, allowing them to disrupt key molecular-level signaling systems and study the effects this has on the bacterium.

Tick-borne relapsing fever infections are potentially fatal. But they’re relatively rare, with fewer than 100 cases reported annually in the U.S., Blevins said in a news release. Infections are often linked to cave exploration or camping at rustic cabins in the mountains, where colonies of soft ticks carrying the bacteria often hide.

Symptoms of relapsing fever infection include multiple recurring episodes of high fever, typically lasting about three days, followed by seven days without fever. 

Tick-borne relapsing fever has been reported in 15 states where soft ticks live: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Blevins’ research team includes collaborators at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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