MHIR Vector-Borne Disease Lab Showcases Research During Lyme Disease Awareness Month

May 6, 2024

Contact: Caroline Cornish

SCARBOROUGH, Maine – May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month, and scientists with the Vector-Borne Disease Lab at the MaineHealth Institute for Research (MHIR) are conducting several surveys and research projects this spring and summer to better understand deer tick ecology and tick-borne illness, including Lyme disease, and field testing novel approaches to tick control.

Among the projects:

  • Robert Smith, MD, MPH, the director of the Vector-Borne Disease Lab, is leading an assessment of a new blood test for early Lyme disease. The effort is supported by the National Institutes of Health. The MHIR Vector-borne Disease Lab is a major participant in the Tufts Lyme Disease Initiative that Dr. Smith co-directs with Linden Hu, MD, Professor of Immunology at Tufts University School of Medicine.
  • Dr. Smith’s team also is assisting with a Lyme vaccine trial site at Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport and is joining researchers at Tufts and Mass General Brigham in a program supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to develop a system for Lyme disease surveillance using electronic medical records.
  • Staff Scientist Rebecca Robich, PhD, is working with college interns this summer to determine the mammalian blood meal source for ticks infected with Powassan virus, a rare tick-borne virus that can cause encephalitis disease in humans. She also will be investigating whether certain proteins help ticks survive the harsh environmental conditions of summer and winter.
  • Susan Elias, MS, PhD, is studying the ways ticks, mosquitoes and their disease pathogens relate to hosts, habitat and weather patterns in Maine’s environment. She also coordinates research that will better quantify Lyme disease incidence and improve Lyme disease testing.
  • Vector Ecologist Chuck Lubelczyk is managing a five-year community-based tick control research project that is supported by the CDC with study sites in Maine and Connecticut. He also 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.

Maine had a record 2,983 preliminary cases of Lyme disease, a new record, along with 777 preliminary cases of Anaplasmosis and 194 preliminary cases of Babesiosis in 2023, according to the Maine CDC.  People seeking additional information about ticks and tick control methods can find resources on the MHIR website including:

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


About MaineHealth
MaineHealth is a not-for-profit integrated health system whose vision is “Working together so our communities are the healthiest in America.” It consists of nine local health systems, a comprehensive behavioral healthcare network, diagnostic services, home health agencies, and 1,700 employed providers working together through the MaineHealth Medical Group. With approximately 22,000 employees, MaineHealth provides preventive care, diagnosis and treatment to 1.1 million residents in Maine and New Hampshire. It includes Franklin Memorial Hospital/Franklin Community Health Network in Farmington, LincolnHealth in Damariscotta and Boothbay Harbor, Maine Behavioral Healthcare in South Portland, MaineHealth Care at Home in Saco, Maine Medical Center in Portland, Memorial Hospital in North Conway, N.H., Mid Coast-Parkview Health in Brunswick, NorDx in Scarborough, Pen Bay Medical Center and Waldo County General Hospital in Rockport and Belfast, Southern Maine Health Care in Biddeford and Sanford, Spring Harbor Hospital in Westbrook and Stephens Memorial Hospital/Western Maine Health Care in Norway. MaineHealth Affiliates include Maine General Health in Augusta and Waterville, New England Rehabilitation Hospital in Portland and St. Mary's Regional Medical Center in Lewiston. It is also a significant stakeholder in the MaineHealth Accountable Care Organization in Portland.