MMCRI Vector-Borne Disease Lab Showcases Research Ahead of Lyme Disease Awareness Month

May 2, 2022

Scientists at MMCRI are studying tick-borne illnesses and how climate change is increasing the number of ticks in Maine

SCARBOROUGH, Maine – May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month, and scientists with the Vector-Borne Disease Lab at the Maine Medical Center Research Institute (MMCRI) are conducting several surveys and research projects this spring and summer to better understand tick migration and tick-borne illness, including Lyme. Among the projects:

  • Robert Smith, MD, MPH, the director of the Vector-Borne Disease Lab, serves as co-director of the Tufts Lyme Disease Initiative with physician Linden Hu, MD, Professor of Immunology and Vice Dean for Research at Tufts University School of Medicine. The initiative promotes interdisciplinary research in all aspects of Lyme disease, including by investigating ways to eliminate Lyme disease at its source by preventing ticks from spreading the Lyme bacteria in the wild and by assessing new strategies to diagnose Lyme disease.
  • Staff Scientist Rebecca Robich, PhD, is leading an investigation of whether or not the type of habitat ticks inhabit plays a role in the transmission of Powassan Virus, a tick-borne illness that can cause the viral infection encephalitis.
  • Staff Scientist Susan Elias, MS, PhD, continues to study the impact of changing temperature and humidity on tick survival.
  • Vector Ecologist Chuck Lubelczyk is coordinating Maine’s statewide tick and mosquito surveillance efforts, with several members of lab submitting ticks and mosquitoes for testing at the state Environmental Health and Testing Laboratory in Augusta.

“Lyme disease is a growing public health threat,” said Robert Smith, MD, MPH, director of the Vector-Borne Disease Lab at MMCRI. “Understanding both the disease and the conditions that allow the ticks that carry it and other diseases to thrive is key to finding new ways to protect our communities.”

In 2019, Maine had 1629 confirmed cases of Lyme disease, the highest incidence rate in the nation, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). People seeking additional information about ticks and tick control methods can find resources on MMCRI’s website including:

The CDC also has several resources with more information on vector-borne diseases on its website.


About Maine Medical Center
Maine Medical Center (MMC), recognized as a Best Regional Hospital by U.S. News and World Report for 2021-2022, is a complete health care resource for the people of Greater Portland and the entire state, as well as northern New England. Incorporated in 1868, MMC is the state’s largest medical center, licensed for 700 beds and employing more than 9,600 people. MMC's unique role as both a community hospital and a referral center requires an unparalleled depth and breadth of services, including an active educational program and a world-class biomedical research center. As a nonprofit institution, Maine Medical Center provides nearly 23 percent of all the charity care delivered in Maine. MMC is part of the MaineHealth system, a growing family of health care services in northern New England. For more information, visit