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$1.7 million NIH grant recognizes Creighton research into Lyme disease

Aug 31, 2023
2 min Read
Eugene Curtin
Travis Bourret profile photo

Borrelia burgdorferi is on notice: Travis Bourret, PhD, has his eye on you. 

The National Institutes of Health has given the Creighton associate professor of medical microbiology and immunology $1.7 million to spend the next four years figuring out how the bacteria that causes Lyme disease senses and responds to its environment in a manner that permits it to be transmitted by ticks to humans. 

Vector-borne sicknesses, such as Lyme disease, cause significant illness worldwide and account for more than a sixth of infectious disease cases in humans. According to the NIH, Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the United States. 

“The long-term goal of this project is to identify useful targets for the development of antimicrobials that could be used to treat Lyme disease,” Bourret says.  

This is not Bourret’s first foray against B. burgdorferi. He and his student researchers have established a reputation for analyzing how Lyme disease develops. The $1.7 million grant builds on previous achievements of Bourret and his graduate and undergraduate research students. 

The long-term goal is to identify useful targets for the development of antimicrobials to treat Lyme disease.
— Travis Bourret, PhD

The data used to support the new grant award was produced by three PhD students and a master’s student who trained under Bourret during the past eight years. He says the new grant will permit the continued training of undergraduate, graduate and professional students who are interested in understanding how Lyme disease progresses.  

Previously, Bourret says, his laboratory discovered that a gene regulatory protein known as DksA plays a central role in the ability of B. burgdorferi to cause infection.   

The work funded by the new four-year NIH grant will allow Bourret and his student researchers to determine how DksA's gene regulatory activity is affected by oxidants produced by the tick and how that contributes to its ability to cause infection.  

Creighton itself has played a big role in making the research a success, Bourret says. 

“In addition to the outstanding trainees that have come through my laboratory, Creighton University has provided the monetary support and core facilities necessary to establish my laboratory's robust research program on Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases.”