New diagnostic test for dogs identifies 11 tick-borne diseases

labrador rests in mud puddle

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Thanks to a diagnostic test created by researchers in the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, veterinarians now have a tool that can detect 11 types of tick-borne disease in dogs, including the seven most common.

Better still, they can do so both earlier and less expensively than ever before.

Maria Esteve-Gassent, an assistant professor in the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, and doctoral student Joseph Modarelli, in collaboration with the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory, developed the TickPath LayerPlex using a molecular technique that allows the researchers to determine if causative agents from tick-borne diseases are present in a dog.

“Instead of looking at whether the animal has been exposed to a pathogen, when we would say that the dog may or may not have a disease, we are saying with this methodology that the animal has the pathogen—it has the bacteria—that is causing the disease,” Esteve-Gasent said. “It’s very specific; you’re looking for the pathogen itself, not for signs of exposure but of being infected.”

With the TickPath LayerPlex, a dog that exhibits symptoms of a tick-borne disease can be taken to a veterinarian, who can submit a single blood sample taken during routine testing to check for Lyme disease, relapsing fever, Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and canine Babesia, and others.

“It’s very novel because there’s no other technique like this in the veterinary field; it’s something completely new that was not possible until now,” said Esteve-Gasent. “We’ve been validating it with thousands of samples to make sure that it’s working, and it has a 98 percent sensitivity specificity.”

Because the test can detect 11 different pathogens, it also is more cost-effective for clients.

“We’ve asked five companies across the country how much they charge and the cheapest for one pathogen, for one disease, was $80 to test for one,” Esteve-Gasent said. “You would have to pay hundreds of dollars to test for 11 diseases.”

A client should pay $90 at most for the TickPath LayerPlex to test for all 11 diseases.

“So, our test is very competitive,” she said. “And it’s fast and reliable.”

Unlike other diagnostic tools, the TickPath LayerPlex more accurately determines the specific type of disease.

“A lot of veterinarians will submit blood for a cytology or serology test,” she said. “For example, in the case of Lyme disease and relapsing fever, the tests are not that easy to differentiate them. Sometimes you can only say, ‘It was either one or the other.’ It’s not clear cut.”

With the Texas A&M test, if a sample falls into the “gray zone” where the test can’t determine a positive or negative result, she said, “you either collect a sample a few weeks later, or, if the veterinarian feels that the clinical signs correlate with the disease you think it is, then treat it.

“Either way, this test allows the veterinarian to provide a more educated treatment when they see their patients,” Esteve-Gasent said.

The project, funded by Texas A&M AgriLife and the USDA Agricultural Research Services, has been submitted for a provisional patent, and once more sampling has been conducted to further validate the test, a final patent will be submitted.

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