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George Church, Ph.D., Ting Wu, Ph.D., Steven E. Phillips, M.D. and Michal Caspi Tal, Ph.D., Named Recipients of Bay Area Lyme Foundation’s 2018 Emerging Leader Award

– Genomics, immunotherapy and unraveling the stealth attributes of Lyme disease are the focus of the 2018 Emerging Leader Award projects, designed to inspire new Lyme disease research –

PORTOLA VALLEY, Calif., May 14, 2018—Bay Area Lyme Foundation, a leading sponsor of Lyme disease research in the U.S., announces the recipients of the 2018 Emerging Leader Awards, which are designed to encourage promising scientists who embody the future of Lyme disease-research leadership. George Church, Ph.D. and Ting Wu, Ph.D. will each be awarded a $250,000 grant to launch the Genomic Lyme Disease Research Initiative project at Harvard Medical School, and Michal Caspi Tal, Ph.D. and Steven E. Phillips, M.D. will each receive $100,000 toward therapeutic research related to immunotherapy and an innovative new drug aimed at eliminating chronic tick-borne infections, respectively. Lyme disease is a potentially devastating infection impacting more than 300,000 Americans each year.

“The only way to solve the mysteries of Lyme, is for great scientific minds to focus on it,” said Alexandra Cohen, president, Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation, whose generous donation makes these awards possible. “It’s an honor to have these recipients come to us with their ideas, plans and excitement for investigating, and potentially overcoming this disease.”

Dr. Church and Dr. Wu will use their Emerging Leader Award grant to establish the Genomic Lyme Disease Research Initiative at Harvard Medical School. Through this initiative, they plan to compare the genetic and immune variations of those who have Lyme disease with those who are unaffected, in an effort to better understand the genetic underpinnings of the disease as well as finding targets for future therapeutics. The objective is to better understand not only if some people are more susceptible to the disease, but also if those who are exceptionally less susceptible may offer clues that point toward potential therapeutic research.

“The role that an individual’s own genome or immunome may play in contracting and fighting Lyme disease is still a mystery. My colleagues and I are excited by the opportunity to lend our expertise and scientific resources to better understand the role genetics may play in both increasing susceptibility and potentially pointing us toward new therapeutic options,” remarked Ting Wu, Ph.D., professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School.  Dr. Wu will work in collaboration with the legendary George Church, Ph.D., who is Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, a Professor of Health Sciences and Technology at Harvard and MIT, and a founding core faculty member and lead of synthetic biology at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. Co-author of approximately 500 scientific papers and co-founder of 20 companies, Dr. Church has also been elected into the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.

The research projects of the two 2018 $100,000 Emerging Leader Award recipients both target some of the stealth activities exhibited by the bacteria that causes Lyme disease:

  • Known for her work exploring immune response in chronic infection, Michal Caspi Tai, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research fellow in the lab of Irving Weissman at Stanford University, will study the bacteria’s ability to utilize the CD47 immune escape mechanism which has been observed in other infectious diseases as well as cancer.  This understanding could lead to advances in treatment.
  • Based on strong evidence that persistent pathogens can evade the current therapies, Steven E. Phillips, M.D., a Yale-educated, world-renowned clinician who specializes in treating chronic tick-borne infections including Lyme disease and bartonellosis, will perform initial testing of a novel therapeutic strategy aimed at more effectively eliminating difficult-to-treat tick-borne diseases.

“Each year, the Emerging Leader Award process offers us renewed hope for the future of Lyme disease patients, because the scientific creativity, determination and commitment of the applicants is so inspiring,” said Bonnie Crater, Chairperson, Science Committee, Bay Area Lyme Foundation.  “We are enthusiastic about the progress of previous awardees as we stay informed of their progress and maintain support for their work, through either continued funding or by connecting them with other researchers to help overcome research obstacles.”

Previous Emerging Leader Award recipients have come from institutions including Brandeis University, Harvard University/Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Louisiana State University, North Carolina State University, Stanford University School of Medicine, and University of California, San Francisco. Most of these projects were in the early stages of research upon awarding, and the Emerging Leader Award offered a springboard for scientists to explore the concepts that were later recognized with grants from the government and other established entities, increasing the scope of focus on Lyme disease. Some have been accepted for presentation at well-respected scientific forums.

The Emerging Leader Awards from Bay Area Lyme Foundation are made possible each year by a generous donation from the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation.  This year, a supplemental donation by Emily and Malcolm Fairbairn allowed for a fourth award, for a total of $700,000 in grants given.  These awards are presented annually and are designed to be awarded to promising scientists who have identified a defined approach to improved diagnostics or therapies for Lyme disease. Researchers interested in applying for the 2019 Emerging Leader Award or learning about the other grants that Bay Area Lyme Foundation offers throughout the year should contact info@bayarealyme.org.

About Lyme disease

One of the fastest growing infectious diseases in the country, Lyme disease is a potentially disabling infection caused by bacteria transmitted through the bite of an infected tick to people and pets. There are about 329,000 new cases of Lyme disease each year, according to statistics released in 2015 by the CDC. As a result of the difficulty in diagnosing and treating Lyme disease, as many as one million Americans may be suffering from the impact of its debilitating long-term symptoms and complications, according to Bay Area Lyme Foundation estimates.

About Bay Area Lyme Foundation

Bay Area Lyme Foundation, a national organization committed to making Lyme disease easy to diagnose and simple to cure, is the leading public foundation sponsor of innovative Lyme disease research in the US.  A 501c3 non-profit organization based in Silicon Valley, Bay Area Lyme Foundation collaborates with world-class scientists and institutions to accelerate medical breakthroughs for Lyme disease. It is also dedicated to providing reliable, fact-based information so that prevention and the importance of early treatment are common knowledge.  A pivotal donation from The LaureL STEM Fund covers all overhead costs and allows for 100% of all donor contributions to Bay Area Lyme Foundation to go directly to research and prevention programs. For more information about Lyme disease or to get involved, visit www.bayarealyme.org or call us at 650-530-2439.

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