Sarah Cormode and Dr. Melanie Wills with Looking at Lyme, episode 13.

S1 E13: Back to the lab with Dr. Melanie Wills from the G. Magnotta Research Lab at the University of Guelph

In this episode Sarah talks research, Canadian research that is, with Dr. Melanie Wills. She is the Director of the G. Magnotta Lab at the University of Guelph, conducting research and studying the diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of Lyme disease. She became interested in researching Lyme disease while working on her PhD, when her own health history intersected with her research interests. When a doctor suggested she may have symptoms of Lyme disease, Dr. Wills agreed that her symptoms were similar, but she had been tested, and Lyme disease had been ruled out. At the doctor’s recommendation, she explored further into the disease and the testing for it. When she realized that the research around Lyme disease was inadequate, her career moved toward helping to fill that gap while at the same time incorporating her PhD and her lived experience with the disease. Dr. Wills recalls how conversations with fellow researcher Vett Lloyd, Jim Wilson (CanLyme President) and the G. Magnotta Foundation resulted in the collaboration behind the lab located at the University of Guelph. 

Dr. Wills talks about their research examining the different forms that Borrelia (Lyme bacteria) can adopt, including round bodies and biofilms, and what role they have in the expression of the disease. She is also looking at how a person’s genetics and the genetics of the bacteria might play a role in how the disease is expressed. Dr. Wills points out that the body’s reaction to the bacteria can cause an excessive inflammatory response, and how that may differ from person to person. She also describes their research study which looks at peoples’ experiences with Lyme disease including their interactions with the medical system.

One of the other exciting areas of research in her lab is the development of a new diagnostic tool for Lyme disease. Dr. Wills takes us into the science and history behind the current Canadian testing protocol and explains some of the shortcomings of this protocol in terms of immune response and the inability to rule out ongoing infection using these tests. 

People with chronic Lyme can’t help but notice the many similarities between Lyme disease and COVID-19. Dr. Wills has been working with researchers at Mount Allison University to study the chronic complications of COVID-19. Studying these symptoms and comparing them to Lyme disease may help to determine which systems in the body may be involved for both diseases. She tells us about other research happening now that may help us to understand what is going on with a certain population by looking at genomes. 

Dr. Wills shares a vision for advances in research in Lyme disease, including more collaboration between researchers and points out that the political landscape is currently hampering such collaboration. She is also concerned that, because Lyme disease has been inaccurately framed as a disease that is easily treated, there has been little interest in funding better treatments and research. Despite all of the challenges Dr. Wills has had to manage both personally and professionally, she believes that we are up to the challenge of finding better solutions in the future. Thank you so much Dr. Wills for all the hard work you are doing to help improve the lives of people with Lyme disease!

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