Recently named one of the most innovative and exciting new nonprofit organizations in the country, Bay Area Lyme Foundation has a bold ambition – to find a cure for the fast-growing epidemic of Lyme disease and related tick-borne infections that affect hundreds of thousands of patients every year.
The foundation was launched in late 2011 by a small team of Silicon Valley residents, each of whom shared an intimate familiarity with Lyme as patients, caregivers, and/or family members all suffering through severely debilitating cases of the disease – a notable coincidence for a (geographic) region that at the time was not recognized as a hot-spot for Lyme disease.
The foundation’s mission is unique – to focus on funding and fostering new and innovative research to accelerate the development of new diagnostics and treatments for Lyme disease by creating new partnerships and collaboration among research institutions, clinical practices, and the public and private sectors, and by attracting new talent and ideas from other fields to the perplexing study of Lyme disease. The model is unique too, bringing to bear both the investment-oriented practices of venture capital and the unbiased skepticism and rigor of an independent medical research entity.
Just five years later, Bay Area Lyme has grown to become the largest 501(c)(3) public charity funder of Lyme research and has helped bring new treatments to trial and new insights to publication. It has hosted the first national “Lyme Hack-a-thon,” built a national Lyme Biorepository, sponsored several interdisciplinary research conferences, attracted six new “Emerging Leaders” to the field, and granted more than $6.2M dollars in new project research.
The road is long – we are in desperate need of better diagnostics and more effective treatments – and the urgency is real – Lyme disease is the fastest growing vector-borne illness in the US, far outpacing almost all other diseases as it expands both its prevalence and geographic range. And the scope has broadened, as deeper knowledge of the complex interaction among tick-borne co-infections as well as a rapidly expanding geographic footprint (in part due to the impact of climate change) has been recognized. The challenge is great – Borrelia burgdorferi (the Lyme-causing bacteria), as well as many of the co-infections are notoriously sophisticated and our research understanding is still far from complete.
But this is one foundation that thrives on challenge and it will not stop until there is a cure and an end to the suffering caused by this insidious disease.