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Catalan biotechnology firm Aromics is leading the Hilysens consortium, the first European project created to improve detection of Lyme disease, the most common infection transmitted by ticks. The project aims to develop an innovative lab-on-a-chip diagnostic tool to improve clinical diagnostics, evolution and treatment of this disease by detecting human serological responses to the agent that causes it, the Borrelia burgdoferi bacteria.

The Hilysens project —presented in Augsburg during the International ILADS Educational Meeting— began last November and will last two years with a budget of €1.47 millions jointly funded by the European Commission through the 7th Framework Program. Seven entities from the academic and business arenas in six European countries participate in the project, with complementary resources and skills that combine medical research with basic research and biotechnology: Aromics (Spain), MicroLiquid (Spain), Stab Vida (Portugal), Micro Bio Devices (Italy), The Borreliose Centrum Augsburg (Germany), University of Jyväskylä (Finland) and WOW Technology (Belgium).

Lyme disease, also known as borreliosis, is infectious and can affect multiple systems in the body. The life cycle of ticks —from April to October— frequently correlates with transmission of the disease and the number of cases around the world has increased due to climate change.

In the United States, approximately 28,200 new cases are detected each year, according to data published by the Center for Infectious Diseases (2008), and in Europe some 85,000 cases, according to the World Health Organization (2006). Health authorities estimate that the real number of cases is triple this number, as reporting Lyme disease isn’t obligatory in many countries in the European Union and currently only 30% of cases are diagnosed. This is due to the fact that its most common clinical manifestations are similar to those of chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, arthritis or lupus.

“Current methods leave many cases undetected and lead patients into an labyrinth of unsuccessful attempts to diagnose and treat their symptoms. Events like that in Augsburg show that we must increase medical knowledge of the disease in Europe in order to improve detection and overcome healthcare obstacles regarding resulting chronic treatments. We hope that the tool developed through the Hilysens project will help improve this last aspect,” says Dr. Paula García-Nogales, scientific coordinator of the project.

The new device, which is the size of a credit card, will be sold with easy-to-use readers and software, aiming to become the standard tool for diagnosing this disease. It will require only a minimal sample for reliable, replicable and precise results. Sample analysis will not require expert laboratory personnel and doctors in both healthcare centers and hospitals will be able to use it on their own.

As a company specializing in the application of omic sciences (mainly genomics and proteomics) in researching and developing new drugs and diagnostic tools, “we contribute our knowledge and experience in determining clinically predictable molecular markers to diagnose human diseases," explains SCO Dr. Carmen Plasencia. Aromics is based in the Barcelona Science Park (PCB). "This project is a clear example of our activity in translational medicine, which focuses on developing and implementing new, more precise and accurate diagnostic methods that, in combination with safe, effective therapies, meet significant clinical needs and represent a clear benefit for the patient,” concludes Plasencia.

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