A novel urine test capable of detecting Lyme disease is ready, according to a new study.

Researchers tested the technology for three years and on 300 patients in what is said to be the largest research of its kind looking at early-phase indicators for the disease.

“We are looking at a highly specific protein shed from the surface of the bacteria that causes Lyme,” reported Lance Liotta, medical director of the Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine at George Mason University. Proteomics is the study of proteins.

The idea for the diagnostic test was born when graduate student Temple Douglas, then a high school-level intern at the university, explored whether a method being developed for testing microscopic cancer particles could also diagnose Lyme.

“I was aware of the issues with the Lyme disease test because of people in my family,” Douglas told CBS News. “Two people in my family at that time had Lyme disease.”

This condition is currently difficult to detect, as a mere 40 percent of its patients exhibit the familiar rash following a tick bite. False positives can also result from current laboratory tests.

The new test originating from the idea is touted to capably find trace amounts of the Lyme bacteria in the body via urine samples. This makes it more effective than existing technologies, which detect antibodies produced as an infection response and can take up to two weeks before results are obtained.

Lyme disease expert Dr. John Aucott deemed it potentially helpful for acute Lyme patients but said that the study is still preliminary. In addition, the technique would need to be tested in other regions of the country with different species of ticks, he said.

While still in experimental phase and not commercially ready, the urine test is hoped to spot the disease before the symptoms manifest. The team is also seeking to use it to target other conditions such as the parasitic infections Chagas disease and toxoplasmosis.

The test is currently licensed to private firm Ceres Nanoscience, co-founded by Liotta and his co-director Chip Petricoin.

Lyme disease is the most prevalent vector-borne illness in the United States and is usually transmitted by ticks or spider-like creatures typically residing in the woodlands. In 2014, an estimated 25,359 cases of the disease were confirmed.

The findings were detailed in the Journal of Translational Medicine.

Photo: Lennart Tange | Flickr

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