Targeting the host-pathogen interface to tackle tick-borne diseases

How can we secure food production in the face of a changing environment which increases the range of ticks?

The challenge

Ticks can carry a wide range of infectious microbes which they can transmit to the humans and animals that they bite, wherein they can cause tick-borne diseases (TBDs).

TBDs have major impacts on human and animal health:

  • they account for billions of GBP in losses to livestock industries per annum through morbidity and mortality;
  • diagnostics and vaccines are lacking;
  • many of the microbes responsible are intrinsically resistant to front-line antimicrobials and,
  • wild animals can act as a reservoir for disease.

Loss of efficiency in livestock production poses a problem for the environment as we turn more wilderness over to agriculture to feed a growing population, a problem that is exacerbated by climate change, which is expected to increase the geographical range of ticks. As such, it is essential that we find new ways to tackle TBDs to secure food production in the face of a changing environment.

What we're doing

We are using a multi-disciplinary approach to understand how tick-borne pathogenic bacteria cause disease.

These bacteria produce special proteins that interact with mammalian host cells and enable the bacteria to recognise, enter, and reprogram the host cells: these proteins are essential for tick-borne bacteria to infect humans and animals. Using protein biochemistry, we will determine at the molecular level how these bacterial proteins bind to host proteins and using microscopy we will visualise where these bacterial proteins go inside host cells and how they influence the behaviour of host cells. 

How it helps

This information is essential for us to develop new ways to tackle TBDs: if we can understand how the proteins of these pathogens work then we can conceive new ways to target and disrupt their function, treat the host cell to mitigate disease, or design detection methods for better diagnosis.


  • Dr Ian Cadby, Bristol Veterinary School
  • Dr Mark Jepson, Biochemistry
  • Prof J Stephen Dumler, Uniformed Services University, USA

Lead researcher profile

Dr Ian Cadby, Bristol Veterinary School

Partner organisations

  • Uniformed Services University, USA


  • Cabot Institute for the Environment Innovation Fund
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