While the disease itself presents many challenges, the successful diagnosis of Lyme disease is often the biggest hurdle for patients and doctors alike. Many medical professionals are not Lyme-literate, and can only identify the disease in its acute state, when it is much easier to diagnose. As it mutates into the chronic form, diagnosis becomes more and more difficult. The symptoms of chronic Lyme disease can take weeks, months or even years to manifest themselves, and their severity often depends on the patient’s individual constitution. Any tool or test that can aid in this difficult diagnosis is of vital importance to doctors, as chronic Lyme is routinely misdiagnosed. The PCR (polymerase chain reaction) technique is a one such tool.
The PCR method is a highly advanced system used to detect Lyme disease in the DNA of patients (or potential patients). It is an amplification technique that clones targeted or specific parts of the subject’s DNA, generating numerous copies of the DNA in question. In essence, the method creates a ‘photocopy’ of the DNA, allowing for more intense study of the molecules of interest. PCR testing sounds quite complicated, but essentially, it is a system designed to replicate DNA segments from the original. Because of the nature of DNA, isolated review is near impossible. The PCR method allows doctors and scientists to take a closer look at specific strands of material, investigate and test further from there.
The PCR method utilises a series of repeated temperature cycles known as thermal cycles. Each cycle consists of two or three discrete temperature steps. The exact readings and length of these thermal cycles depends on the parameters set by the testers. The application of heat causes the DNA specimen to separate into two pieces of single-stranded DNA. An enzyme known as ‘taq polymerase’ is then applied, which synthesises (or builds) two new strands of DNA, utilising the original strand as a template. The result is two new molecules, each containing one strand of the original DNA, and one new strand synthesised by the polymerase. Each of these strands can then be used to create two new strands, with the duplication building and increasing from there. The process is repeated up to 40 times, resulting in billions of strands of new DNA being created by the culmination. Despite the sheer amount of new material being generated, the process is fully automated and can be completed in a matter of hours.
The PCR technique is utilised in many different laboratory situations. It was the main method used in the Human Genome Project (HGP), but it is also extremely valuable for a number of other procedures. It is crucial for DNA fingerprinting, which has a wide scope of utility, and also in the diagnosis of genetic disorders (inherent in the DNA) and detection of viruses and bacteria. It is particularly helpful in diagnosing AIDS, as well as a host of other chronic diseases, including Lyme disease. Although it is unfortunately a rare practice to diagnose Lyme disease via PCR, it is an extremely accurate tool to determine the presence of the Lyme-causative pathogen borrelia, as well as a host of other Lyme co-infections such as bartonella, babesia and ehrlichia/anaplasma.
BCA-clinic in Augsburg is one of the few Lyme centres in the world that utilises the PCR method for testing. They prioritise the highest-quality procedure standards, using an expertly validated PCR set up in their in-house laboratory. On top of that, they have a committed team of experts who are constantly developing and improving their PCR protocol, and are always on the lookout for ways to improve their service for their patients. BCA-clinic uses maximum sample volume for DNA isolation to increase the accuracy of their tests, while each step of the process is validated using several test controls. The result is an extremely accurate and reliable method used to test ticks, dog and horse blood, and human blood or biopsies for a variety of borrelia species, as well as an assortment of Lyme disease co-infections.
Diagnosing Lyme and its co-infections is one of the toughest challenges doctors face. Traditionally, a test called an ELISpot was used, which detects pathogens in the subject’s blood. However, Lyme is a uniquely insidious disease, which resulted in false negatives being returned all too often. On top of this, co-infections are often largely ignored by the majority of medical professionals, even when Lyme disease is confirmed as being present. As these co-infections can compound the symptoms of Lyme, it is equally important to eradicate them simultaneously. The PCR technique provides doctors with an accurate overview of what pathogens patients are dealing with in their system. Once experienced clinics like BCA-clinic know exactly what they’re up against, the path to treatment and recovery becomes a lot clearer.
Lyme is not a one-size-fits-all disease; if it is going to be successfully combated, precise and accurate methods like PCR are an absolute necessity.