CDC-CSU team wins governor’s award for research

Video courtesy of CO-LABS

A team of researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Colorado State University was recognized with one of the 2018 CO-LABS Governor’s Awards for High-Impact Research earlier this month for identifying a way to distinguish Lyme disease from similar illnesses.

The team was led by Claudia Molins, a microbiologist in the CDC’s Division of Vector-Borne Diseases, and John Belisle, a professor in CSU’s Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology. The Governor’s Awards recognize federally-funded labs and research institutes in Colorado; CSU partnered with CDC on this Lyme disease breakthrough.

John Belisle Claudia Molins Erik Mitisek
CSU Professor John Belisle, Microbiologist Claudia Molins from CDC, and Colorado’s Chief Innovation Officer Erik Mitisek at the awards event. Photo: CO-LABS

This breakthrough, published in Science Translational Medicine in 2017, focused on biomarkers that showed how the body reacts to Lyme disease and a similar condition, Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness (STARI). An estimated 300,000 cases of Lyme disease occur annually in the U.S., with most of the cases occurring in the northeast and upper Midwest.

Current laboratory tests aren’t sensitive enough to detect Lyme disease infection with high accuracy in the first few weeks of illness, and researchers have yet to identify what pathogen causes STARI.

STARI symptoms — a rash,  fatigue, fever, headache and muscle pains – are nearly indistinguishable from those of Lyme disease. STARI cannot be diagnosed with the current test for Lyme disease.

People with untreated Lyme disease may experience a fever, rash, facial paralysis and arthritis. More long-term symptoms include severe headaches, heart palpitations or an irregular heartbeat, nerve pain, problems with short-term memory and inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.

CO-LABS also recognized:

  • JILA, a joint physics institute of the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, for its work to revolutionize ultrafast and nanoscale imaging through the research and development of tabletop x-ray sources, and
  • National Renewable Energy Laboratory for its efforts on a sustainable, elegant solution to produce cost-competitive acrylonitrile.

The Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, also based at CU Boulder, received an honorable mention for a research study that found household cleaners, pesticides, paints and perfumes now rival motor vehicle-related emissions as the top source of urban air pollution. CSU Assistant Professor Shantanu Jathar and Ali Akherati, who is pursuing a doctorate in mechanical engineering, were co-authors of this study.

Federal science in the state

Alan Rudolph, Vice President for Research at CSU, said the event demonstrated that science matters.

“It is important that organizations like CO-LABS help educate people about what these labs do, not only for the state of Colorado but for the whole nation,” he said.

Dan Powers, executive director of CO-LABS noted in a release that Colorado has one of the highest per capita concentrations of federal science, research and engineering facilities in the nation, with renowned scientists whose research has a global impact in a range of fields including agriculture, climate and weather, earth science, materials science, natural resource management, renewable energy, space physics and telecommunications.

“This prestigious event provides a unique opportunity to connect with leading scientists, lab directors, business leaders and policymakers in an informal and celebratory setting, as we highlight the labs’ role in innovation and their significant contribution to the state economy,” he added.

CO-LABS is a nonprofit that educates the public, businesses, educational organizations and government entities about the value of federally funded laboratories, creates connections between these sectors, and supports retention and expansion of Colorado’s scientific resources.

Bill Ritter, Jr., helped launch the research awards event while he was Colorado’s governor in 2009. Ritter is the founding director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at CSU.

Read more stories about research at CSU.