Allen Steere

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Allen Steere
Alma mater
Known forcharacterization of Lyme disease
Scientific career

Allen Caruthers Steere is a professor of rheumatology at Harvard University and previously at Tufts University and Yale University. Steere and his colleague, Stephen Malawista of Yale University, are credited with discovering and naming Lyme disease, and he published almost 200 scholarly articles on Lyme disease between 1977 and 2007.[1][2] At a ceremony in Hartford, Connecticut in 1998, Governor John G. Rowland declared September 24 to be "Allen C. Steere Day."[3]


Steere attended medical school at the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, and graduated in 1972. He joined the Epidemic Intelligence Service to avoid being drafted into the military.[4] After spending 2 years at the CDC, he did a fellowship in rheumatology at Yale University,[5]

Lyme disease research[edit]

In 1975, the Connecticut State Health Department received complaints from Polly Murray, a mother living in the small town of Lyme, Connecticut. Two of her children had been diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, but she knew of others in the area with similar symptoms.[3]

An epidemic intelligence officer assigned to the Connecticut state health department, David R. Snydman contacted Allen Steere who was studying rheumatology at Yale University, after he had performed a preliminary investigation and thought that there was some symptom complex worth investigating. He knew Allen Steere since they were together in Atlanta the year before at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), when both were in the Epidemic Intelligence Service,[6] a CDC program set up in the 1950s to track epidemics worldwide.[7]

Steere met with Ms. Murray, who gave him a list of children who shared a set of symptoms. Steere called each affected family, representing 39 children in all, and he found an additional twelve adults suffering from what was thought to be juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.[3][8]

A quarter of the people Steere interviewed remembered getting a strange, spreading skin rash (erythema migrans) before experiencing any other symptoms. A European doctor happened to be visiting Yale at the time, and he pointed out that the rash was similar to one frequently encountered in northern Europe and known to be associated with tick bites. Most of the rashes were found somewhere on the torso, suggesting a crawling vector rather than a flying one or a spider, but most patients did not remember being bitten.[9]

In 1976, Steere began testing blood from disease victims for specific antibodies against 38-known tick-transmitted diseases and 178 other arthropod-transmitted viruses. Not one came out positive. When the broader definition of the disease was applied, more cases were discovered, in Connecticut, adjoining states, and the upper Midwest.[citation needed]

Steere then learned about the work of the Swedish dermatologist Arvid Afzelius, who in 1909 had described an expanding, ring-like lesion and speculated that it was caused by the bite of an Ixodes tick. The rash described by Afzelius was later named erythema migrans. Research in Europe had found that erythema migrans and acrodermatitis chronica atrophicans, another rash caused by ticks in Europe, responded to penicillin, suggesting that the cause was bacterial, not viral. Yet no microorganisms could be found in fluid from the joints of Lyme disease patients.[citation needed]

The recognition that the patients in the United States had erythema migrans led to the recognition that "Lyme arthritis" was one manifestation of the same tick-borne disease known in Europe.[10] The syndrome first found in and around Lyme and Old Lyme, Connecticut came to be called "Lyme Arthritis" and later "Lyme Disease".[11][12]

In 1980, Steere and colleagues began to test antibiotic regimens in adult patients with Lyme disease.[13][14]

Steere first published about neurological and cardiac symptoms involved in his early studies of Lyme disease in 1977.[9] Steere first published work about chronic manifestations of the disease in 1979.[15]

Steere later worked with Frank Dressler; the CDC later adopted their work for its Lyme Disease surveillance case definition. Using primarily sera from early, acute Lyme patients, Steere formulated serodiagnostic criteria for Western blotting, a technique which identifies antibodies in the serum directed against foreign antigen, in this case, B. burgdorferi, the causative agent of Lyme disease.[citation needed]

Lyme disease controversy[edit]

By the mid-1990s, Steere had watched Lyme disease gain acceptance, but he worried that Lyme disease had become a "junk-drawer diagnosis", covering maladies ranging from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), fibromyalgia to hypochondria. Steere was concerned that many people with no evidence of past or present Lyme disease receiving antibiotic treatments, especially treatments beyond the recommended four week treatment guideline protocol, "were being done more harm than good".[3]

Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 1993, Steere and colleagues stated that Lyme disease had become "overdiagnosed" and overtreated.[16] This statement became a rallying point for what advocacy groups call the Lyme disease controversy. In the face of some elements of mainstream medical opinion, some doctors and patient advocacy groups claim that Lyme disease can develop into a chronic disease requiring high doses of antibiotics over long periods of time. However aside from the issue of terminology, some mainstream medical opinion goes as far as to say that some Lyme disease cases can become "difficult to treat" if not quickly diagnosed.[17][18][19]

Although the term "chronic Lyme" was once used by Steere and others to define persistent complications following acute Lyme disease,[20] various Lyme advocacy organizations and a dissident group of doctors called the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS) have redefined[citation needed] the term to describe a wide range of symptoms, mostly in patients who have no evidence of Lyme disease.[21] Steere and his colleagues said that even patients with a positive serology for Borrelia infection and with symptoms resembling those of CFS or fibromyalgia, would not be helped by further antibiotics.[22]

Steere's prominence, and his support of the medical view that patients with "chronic Lyme disease" often have no actual evidence of Lyme disease and are not helped by long courses of antibiotics, led to him being targeted, harassed, and threatened with death by patients and advocacy groups angered by his refusal to validate their belief that they suffer from chronic Lyme disease.[23]

Lyme vaccine[edit]

As chief of the rheumatology and immunology department at Tufts School of Medicine, Steere led the research effort on Lymerix, the preventive Lyme vaccine by SmithKline Beecham, now GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), which first appeared on the market in January 1999. The research took four years, spanned ten states, and involved 11,000 patients and 31 scientists.[3][24]

Lymerix works on the outer surface protein A (Osp-A) of Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative agent of Lyme Disease. Osp-A causes creation of antibodies from the body's immune system to attack that protein. Tests preceding the vaccine were done primarily on Lyme arthritis, and patients with neurological or cardiac manifestations were excluded.[25][26][27]

The vaccine was shown to be 78 percent effective.[3] The drug was taken in three shots administered over the course of a year. Some uncertainty remained about the vaccine's ultimate safety before it was released to the public, especially for people with certain conditions. When the National Vaccine Advisory Committee of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) certified the drug in December 1998, members appended a list of concerns about the long-term effect of the vaccine. The FDA released the vaccine on public health grounds, recommending that it be considered by people at the highest risk. GSK took the drug off the market in 2002 for commercial reasons, citing poor sales (with predictions of less than 10,000 people to be vaccinated in 2002), the high price of the vaccine, the need to exclude children under 15,[28] and the need for frequent boosters. Vaccine expert Stanley Plotkin predicted that the withdrawal meant there will never be another Lyme disease vaccine available.[28]

Current work[edit]

In his current work Steere is testing the hypothesis that synovial inflammation may persist in genetically susceptible individuals with antibiotic-resistant Lyme arthritis because of infection-induced autoimmunity via a pro-inflammatory mechanism within the joint. This outcome has been associated with an immunodominant T cell epitope of outer-surface protein A (OspA) of the spirochete.[29][30][31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Weir, William (2013-09-19). "Lyme Disease Pioneer Stephen Malawista Dies". Hartford Courant. Retrieved 2013-10-14.
  2. ^ "BioInfoBank Library - Steere AC". Retrieved 2008-05-28.
  3. ^ a b c d e f France, David (1999-05-04). "Scientist at work: Allen C. Steere; Lyme expert developed big picture of tiny tick". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-26.
  4. ^ France, David (4 May 1999). "SCIENTIST AT WORK: ALLEN C. STEERE; Lyme Expert Developed Big Picture Of Tiny Tick". The New York Times.
  5. ^ "Going to Mars" (PDF).
  6. ^ "CDC Foundation - New York Gala Honors Epidemic Intelligence Service". Archived from the original on 11 May 2008. Retrieved 2008-06-26.
  7. ^ Centers of Disease Control. "EIS homepage". Archived from the original on 18 June 2008. Retrieved 2008-06-26.
  8. ^ Steere AC, Malawista SE, Snydman DR, et al. (1977). "Lyme arthritis: an epidemic of oligoarticular arthritis in children and adults in three connecticut communities". Arthritis Rheum. 20 (1): 7–17. doi:10.1002/art.1780200102. PMID 836338.
  9. ^ a b Steere AC, Malawista SE, Hardin JA, Ruddy S, Askenase W, Andiman WA (June 1977). "Erythema chronicum migrans and Lyme arthritis. The enlarging clinical spectrum". Ann. Intern. Med. 86 (6): 685–98. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-86-6-685. PMID 869348.
  10. ^ Sternbach G, Dibble C (1996). "Willy Burgdorfer: Lyme disease". J Emerg Med. 14 (5): 631–4. doi:10.1016/S0736-4679(96)00143-6. PMID 8933327.
  11. ^ Steere AC, Hardin JA, Malawista SE (April 1978). "Lyme arthritis: a new clinical entity". Hosp Pract. 13 (4): 143–58. PMID 658948.
  12. ^ Steere AC, Malawista SE (November 1979). "Cases of Lyme disease in the United States: locations correlated with distribution of Ixodes dammini". Ann. Intern. Med. 91 (5): 730–3. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-91-5-730. PMID 496106.
  13. ^ Steere AC, Malawista SE, Newman JH, Spieler PN, Bartenhagen NH (July 1980). "Antibiotic therapy in Lyme disease". Ann. Intern. Med. 93 (1): 1–8. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-93-1-1. PMID 6967272.
  14. ^ Steere AC, Hutchinson GJ, Rahn DW, et al. (July 1983). "Treatment of the early manifestations of Lyme disease". Ann. Intern. Med. 99 (1): 22–6. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-99-1-22. PMID 6407378.
  15. ^ Steere AC, Gibofsky A, Patarroyo ME, Winchester RJ, Hardin JA, Malawista SE (June 1979). "Chronic Lyme arthritis. Clinical and immunogenetic differentiation from rheumatoid arthritis". Ann. Intern. Med. 90 (6): 896–901. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-90-6-896. PMID 312615.
  16. ^ Steere AC, Taylor E, McHugh GL, Logigian EL (April 1993). "The overdiagnosis of Lyme disease". JAMA. 269 (14): 1812–6. doi:10.1001/jama.1993.03500140064037. PMID 8459513.
  17. ^ CMO, UK Department of Health (October 2009). "Testing for Lyme disease". Chief Medical Officer's Update. CMO Update (49): 4.
  18. ^ US Armed Forces Pest Management Board (May 2000). Regional Disease Vector Ecology Profile, North Africa (Report). p. 104.
  19. ^ German Borreliosis Society (December 2010). Diagnosis and Treatment of Lyme borreliosis (Lyme disease), Revised 2nd edition (PDF) (Report).
  20. ^ Logigian EL, Kaplan RF, Steere AC (November 1990). "Chronic neurologic manifestations of Lyme disease". N. Engl. J. Med. 323 (21): 1438–44. doi:10.1056/NEJM199011223232102. PMID 2172819.
  21. ^ Feder HM, Johnson BJ, O'Connell S, et al. (2007). "A Critical Appraisal of "Chronic Lyme Disease"". N Engl J Med. 357 (14): 1422–30. doi:10.1056/NEJMra072023. PMID 17914043.
  22. ^ Lightfoot RW, Luft BJ, Rahn DW, et al. (September 1993). "Empiric parenteral antibiotic treatment of patients with fibromyalgia and fatigue and a positive serologic result for Lyme disease. A cost-effectiveness analysis". Ann. Intern. Med. 119 (6): 503–9. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-119-6-199309150-00010. PMID 8357117.
  23. ^ Grann, David (2001-06-17). "Stalking Dr. Steere over Lyme disease". New York Times. Archived from the original on July 15, 2009. Retrieved 2008-06-26.
  24. ^ Steere AC, Sikand VK, Meurice F, et al. (July 1998). "Vaccination against Lyme disease with recombinant Borrelia burgdorferi outer-surface lipoprotein A with adjuvant. Lyme Disease Vaccine Study Group". N. Engl. J. Med. 339 (4): 209–15. doi:10.1056/NEJM199807233390401. PMID 9673298.
  25. ^ Kalish RA, Leong JM, Steere AC (July 1993). "Association of treatment-resistant chronic Lyme arthritis with HLA-DR4 and antibody reactivity to OspA and OspB of Borrelia burgdorferi" (PDF). Infect. Immun. 61 (7): 2774–9. PMC 280920. PMID 7685738.
  26. ^ Kalish RA, Leong JM, Steere AC (June 1995). "Early and late antibody responses to full-length and truncated constructs of outer surface protein A of Borrelia burgdorferi in Lyme disease" (PDF). Infect. Immun. 63 (6): 2228–35. PMC 173290. PMID 7768602.
  27. ^ Kamradt T, Lengl-Janssen B, Strauss AF, Bansal G, Steere AC (April 1996). "Dominant recognition of a Borrelia burgdorferi outer surface protein A peptide by T helper cells in patients with treatment-resistant Lyme arthritis" (PDF). Infect. Immun. 64 (4): 1284–9. PMC 173916. PMID 8606091.
  28. ^ a b Poor sales trigger vaccine withdrawal, Nature
  29. ^ Ghosh S, Steere AC, Stollar BD, Huber BT (March 2005). "In situ diversification of the antibody repertoire in chronic Lyme arthritis synovium". J. Immunol. 174 (5): 2860–9. doi:10.4049/jimmunol.174.5.2860. PMID 15728496.
  30. ^ Steere AC, Klitz W, Drouin EE, et al. (April 2006). "Antibiotic-refractory Lyme arthritis is associated with HLA-DR molecules that bind a Borrelia burgdorferi peptide". J. Exp. Med. 203 (4): 961–71. doi:10.1084/jem.20052471. PMC 3212725. PMID 16585267.
  31. ^ Shin JJ, Glickstein LJ, Steere AC (April 2007). "High levels of inflammatory chemokines and cytokines in joint fluid and synovial tissue throughout the course of antibiotic-refractory lyme arthritis". Arthritis Rheum. 56 (4): 1325–35. doi:10.1002/art.22441. PMID 17393419.

Further reading[edit]