14. Heading to Finland to find ways to accurately diagnose tick-borne diseases

Sarah Cormode and Dr. Leona Gilbert talk tick-borne illness and diagnosis.

In this episode Sarah talks with Canadian researcher Dr.Leona Gilbert, originally from Thunder Bay, and currently living in Finland. Dr. Gilbert tells us about an interaction with a patient that led her to focus on testing for Lyme disease. She points to research showing that patients who suffer from long term effects of Lyme disease often test positive for multiple microbes. 

Tickplex is a diagnostic kit that tests for six different forms of borrelia, ten other forms of microbes as well as antibodies which correlate to three different disease stages – all in one test! Dr. Gilbert explains the benefit to this method (also known as polymicrobial theory) over testing for one microbe with one antibody at a time. She points out that many long time sufferers of Lyme disease and co-infections are unable to build an adequate immune response to these microbes, but with treatment their immune system starts to respond and is then able to create antibodies. Research is also showing that outcomes are much better for those patients who are diagnosed early, tested for multiple microbes and then treated. She also talks about how multiplex testing is identifying patients who are “shining up” due to a hyperactive immune system.

“We need to let the science drive us and let the needs of the patient also influence where we’re going with the science as well.”

Dr. Leona Gilbert

Dr. Gilbert explains that polymicrobial theory, although accepted in other disease models, will take time to be accepted in relation to Lyme disease and points out the importance of creating individual treatment protocols based on multiple microbe testing as well. She strongly believes that both the science and the needs of the patient should drive researchers and points out that her group collaborates with patient groups, advocacy groups, scientific groups, as well as national and international organizations. 

Dr. Gilbert explains for us the difference between co-infections and opportunistic infections and touches on the role of decreased immune function and opportunistic infections in Lyme patients.

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Did you know that Lyme bacteria can persist even after treatment? Dr. Gilbert outlines research done not only in the lab, but also in animals and in humans that proves that persister forms of Borrelia exist despite antibiotic treatments. She discusses some of the theories behind how borrelia is able to evade treatment, including within biofilms, by transforming into round body forms and by moving into certain places in the body. Dr. Gilbert talks about other research that’s happening to better understand these persister forms. She explains how we can access the Tickplex test from overseas.

“People that have been sick for a very long time, even five to ten years, that they actually can’t even build up an immune response to actually resolve these microbes.”

Dr. Leona Gilbert
Sarah Cormode and Dr. Leona Gilbert talk tick-borne illness and diagnosis.

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