March 29, 2021 - Podcast

Episode 109—Ticks, and peripheral arterial disease

As our climate changes, ticks are expanding their geographic range, bringing a host of diseases with them. This expansion has coincided with a rise in reports of tick-borne illnesses , making understanding the factors that put people at risk of contracting such diseases critical to protecting public health. To learn more about the presence of ticks in residential areas, Indiana University researchers sampled about 310 private residences in south and central Indiana, collecting data on the local environment, property owners’ knowledge about ticks, and the tick management strategies used by property owners. Study findings show that the areas around people’s residences may be an underestimated source of tick exposure, particularly in rural areas. Additionally, the team identified factors that make a parent more likely to apply tick repellent on their child, such as tick and tick-borne disease knowledge, area of residence, and the parent having found a tick on themselves. Using the iTree canopy tool, researchers are also measuring the proportion of vegetation at each sampling site to study correlations between vegetation and tick presence. They’ve found that ticks are more likely to be found on properties with tree canopies than those with just grass and that property owners who practice leaf litter removal are less likely to harbor ticks than those who do not. Researchers are continuing their work and researchers are developing an application to classify ticks in Indiana. The app will help residents identify ticks and give them information on tick facts, tick control practices, and protective measures to avoid tick exposure, while also allowing users to submit specimen photos to a database managed by the research team. The database will help researchers determine the location and frequency of tick presence and allow the team to identify new areas of interest.

In other news, Critical Limb Threatening Ischemia, or CLTI, is the most severe form of peripheral arterial disease in the lower extremities. It is often associated with excruciating pain and leads to the development of skin ulcers or gangrene. While the standard of care for CTLI is to improve blood flow to legs with either a surgical bypass or angioplasty to open blockages, about 30 percent of patients with CLTI will not be candidates for these approaches, meaning there is no other option but amputation to remove a painful or infected leg. The Indiana Center for Regenerative Medicine and Engineering is at the national forefront in developing approaches to treat these “no option” patients. IU researcher Dr. Michael P. Murphy has been actively focusing on cell-based approaches for cardiovascular disease for over 20 years and conducted the first trial in the U.S. using a patient’s own bone marrow cells to prevent amputation. Murphy is working with a group of researchers to explore the potential synergy of intra-muscular injection and application of an electroceutical dressing to reduce amputation rates among CLTI patients. Amputations are the sixth costliest operation to the national health care system, with over 53,000 performed each year. Along with the devastation to the patient, this cost has driven interest in cell-based therapies for wound healing and restoring blood circulation in critical limb ischemia patients.