As reported by the Poughkeepsie Journal, April 9, 2006.

Professor's Research Seeks Ways to Keep Ticks Off

By Dan Shapley

Any one of the 17,530 Dutchess County residents who has been so unfortunate as to have contracted Lyme disease after the stealthy bite of a tick has probably had a thought like this:

Why didn't I feel it bite?

Stephen K. Wikel, a professor of immunology in the School of Medicine at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, has spent more than 30 years asking questions like that. His work has been to uncover the "incredibly clever" way a tick — and more to the point, its spit — outwits our immune system.

And since 2004, he's been working with a team to decipher the genetic code for the black-legged tick in hopes a vaccine or pesticide can be developed to thwart tick spit. That's right: A Tick Genome Project.

Later this month, Wikel will come to Poughkeepsie to discuss his research, its potential for preventing disease, and its implications for world health and for the prevention of bioterrorism. Yes, federal counterterrorism officials have identified ticks and diseases far more deadly than Lyme as a threat to be reckoned with.

"The work that Dr. Wikel is doing is the most exciting research I've seen so far. It holds real promise toward prevention of tick-borne diseases in our lifetimes," said Jill Auerbach, the chairwoman of the Hudson Valley Lyme Disease Association, which is hosting Wikel. "Perhaps the children will be able to roll in the grass and leaves as we were able to without fear of ticks."

After as many as 250 million years of evolution, the black-legged tick has developed an array of strategies for attaching to animals and drawing their blood undetected. Its success opened up an avenue for a variety of diseases.

Bite with no pain

The spit suppresses the body's pain and itch responses so you don't know it's there. It simultaneously draws blood and prevents that blood from coagulating.

Ever pulled a tick off your pet, and wonder why the wound takes so long to heal? The answer is tick spit — the stuff suppresses the immune system.

Mosquitoes, the only bug responsible for more disease than ticks, have a mere 70 proteins in their saliva to get past our impressive defenses. Ticks have 500.

That's one of the things that makes the Tick Genome Project so promising, Wikel said. If scientists can understand the molecules in tick saliva, they are that much closer to identifying ways to manipulate, disrupt or destroy them.

The Lyme vaccine that hit the market with fanfare unequaled until it was withdrawn from the market, was only effective preventing one disease. Wikel is hopeful the next decade will see the development of a vaccine that prevents tick bites altogether. That would stop Lyme, babesiosis, anaplasmosis (the disease formerly known as ehrlichiosis) and anything else ticks start to spread.

"This is a quantum leap in our understanding, and it's going to open the door to so many new opportunities to understand what's going on and to understand how to control tick-borne disease," Wikel said. "It's another tool, but it's a very very powerful tool."