In 2012, our founders Laure Woods and Bonnie Crater were fellow moms in their local Portola Valley, CA, Girl Scout troop. During conversation, they discovered a remarkable and disturbing coincidence: they each had immediate family members or friends who had been diagnosed with debilitating cases of Lyme disease.
At the time, the San Francisco Bay Area was not considered a hot spot for Lyme. Repeatedly they were told that there was “No Lyme in California,” and that ticks in the immediate area were not infected.
The friends decided that this indeed was a quandary and required more investigation. Leveraging a combination of Silicon Valley chutzpah, biology backgrounds, and connections to Stanford University, they decided to search out scientists to conduct a research project to test if there WERE infected ticks in the local hills and woodlands. Serendipitously they found a couple of young tick ecologists, Nate Nieto PhD working at Northern Arizona University and Dan Salkeld PhD who at the time was with Stanford University. Over a picnic table on campus, the founders persuaded the two scientists to collect ticks from trails in nearby Bay Area parks and test the ticks for the disease-causing bacteria. Bay Area Lyme Foundation was born.
The resulting tick study proved unequivocally that there were Western black-legged ticks (Ixodes pacificus) in the Bay Area open spaces, infected with Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease in humans. The study gained wide attention and launched Bay Area Lyme Foundation into the national scientific spotlight. After growing the founding group by a few more Lyme community experts, they all agreed that the mission of the foundation would be to make Lyme disease easy to diagnose and simple to cure.
Fundamentally changing the foundation’s prospects, The LaureL Foundation believed so profoundly in the mission that they made an initial five-year grant to cover 100% of operational costs and ensured that all donations to the foundation would go to Lyme research grants. In 2013, our full-time executive director, Linda Giampa was hired to lead the vision and strategy of this fledgling foundation. With a background in Silicon Valley startups and as a former tech CEO, Linda brought her experience-honed, extensive professional skillset to the team. Immediately realizing that this was much more than just a local community foundation, Linda saw the national public health implications of Lyme and tick-borne diseases.
Gains on the mission progressed swiftly thanks to the foundation’s unique funding model, which brought to bear both the investment-oriented practices of venture capital and the unbiased skepticism and rigor of an independent medical research entity. A small—but mighty—team made up of a professional grant manager, fundraiser, scientists, financial administrators, and volunteers was assembled quickly. The organization sharpened its focus through funding and fostering new and innovative research to accelerate the development of new diagnostics and treatments for Lyme disease. Success in funded research projects further secured an additional operational overhead grant which covers all costs through 2025.
Through thoughtful and creative programs such as the first national “Lyme hackathon,” building the first and only nationwide Lyme Disease Biobank, supporting ten national interdisciplinary research conferences, attracting 14 new “Emerging Leaders” to the field, and granting more than $20 million in new project research…Bay Area Lyme is changing the landscape of the Lyme research field and moving the needle.
Ten years on, Bay Area Lyme’s impact and achievements in the field of Lyme disease are many and noteworthy. The foundation has grown to become the largest 501c3 public charity funder of Lyme disease research. We are proud of our many accomplishments, and these can be found throughout our website. Also, for a summary of the foundation’s yearly progress, please review our annual impact report.
Through all these achievements, Bay Area Lyme and its indefatigable team never lose sight of Laure and Bonnie’s original mission—to make Lyme disease easy to diagnose and simple to cure. While extraordinary gains have been made in the field, at its core, the organization cares deeply and keeps its focus on helping Lyme patients. Millions are suffering from tick-borne diseases and the need to develop diagnostics and therapies to detect, fight and cure Lyme is still urgent.
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. The challenge is great. Borrelia burgdorferi, 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.
We humbly thank all of the supporters, scientists, doctors, volunteers, partners and donors who have contributed so significantly to our foundation.