2021 Emerging Leader Awards


Media Contact:
Tara DiMilia, 908-947-0500, tara.dimilia@TMstrat.com


Grants are designed to inspire new research to address the challenges of Lyme disease

PORTOLA VALLEY, Calif., January 15, 2019—Bay Area Lyme Foundation, a leading sponsor of Lyme disease research in the US, is announcing a call for entries for their 2019 Emerging Leader Awards (ELA), which are designed to encourage promising scientists who embody the future of Lyme disease research leadership in the US. This year, two $100,000 grants will be awarded in May. Recipients will be researchers from academia or the private sector who are currently at the post-doctoral through the assistant professor level or equivalent, and who have demonstrated professional and scientific leadership in the biomedical sciences. They should have a defined approach that offers scientific rationale for a research project that can advance diagnostics or treatments for Lyme disease. Proof of concept for the $100,000 awards should be feasible in 12–18 months.

These awards, along with other Bay Area Lyme Foundation efforts, aim to fill a gap as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding for Lyme disease research is insufficient. While there are nearly 10 times as many people diagnosed each year with Lyme than HIV in the US, Lyme disease receives approximately 1% of the public funding that is allocated for HIV/AIDS.

“While Lyme is one of the fastest-growing infectious diseases in the country, with 427,430 new cases reported in the US alone in 2017, Lyme research is dramatically underfunded,” said Bonnie Crater, chairperson, science committee, Bay Area Lyme Foundation. “Our hope is that these awards will aid in transforming the research landscape by providing the funds necessary to spur incentive for researchers to consider novel approaches to produce reliable diagnostics, and treatments that work.”

The Emerging Leader Award grant is designed to be a catalyst for future research. Many of the ELA winners have gone on to receive grants from other groups including the NIH, as well as continued support from Bay Area Lyme Foundation and its research partners.

Past ELA recipients have come from institutions including Brandeis University, Harvard University/Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Infectious Diseases Diagnostic Laboratory at Boston Children’s Hospital, Louisiana State University, North Carolina State University, Stanford University School of Medicine, and University of California, San Francisco, Wyss Institute.

Most of these projects were in the early stages of research upon submission for consideration, 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 investigation in Lyme disease.

Previous Emerging Leader Award recipients include:

  • George Church, PhD, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, professor of health sciences and technology at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He was awarded the Emerging Leader Award in 2018 to launch the Genomic Lyme Disease Research Initiative project at Harvard Medical School. Through this initiative, he and Dr. Wu hope 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.
  • Ting Wu, PhD, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, director of the Consortium for Space Genetics, and director of the Personal Genetics Education Project. She was awarded the Emerging Leader Award in 2018 to launch the Genomic Lyme Disease Research Initiative project at Harvard Medical School. Through this initiative, she and Dr. Church 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.
  • Michal Caspi Tai, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow in the lab of Irving Weissman at Stanford University, is known for her work exploring immune response in chronic infection. She 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.
  • Steven E. Phillips, MD, 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, based on strong evidence that persistent pathogens can evade the current therapies.
  • James J. Collins, PhD, core faculty Wyss Institute, Harvard University; Termeer professor of medical engineering & science; professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Dr. Collins’ work centers around synthetic biology and systems biology, with a particular focus on using network biology approaches to study antibiotic action, bacterial defense mechanisms, and the emergence of resistance. Dr. Collins was awarded the Emerging Leader Award in 2017 to research a direct detection RNA diagnostic for early Lyme disease.
  • Yuko Nakajima, PhD, postdoctoral fellow Brandeis University. Dr. Nakajima is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of James E. Haber at Brandeis. Dr. Nakajima received the Emerging Leader Award in 2017 to investigate potential treatments to block immune evasion by the bacteria causing Lyme disease. Prior to beginning her Borrelia burgdorferi research, her work investigated the relationship between DNA damage and spindle assembly checkpoints during cell division.
  • Britton J. Grasperge, PhD, Brandeis University Louisiana State University. Dr. Grasperge is working to identify substances within tick saliva that are responsible for attracting the bacteria that causes Lyme disease in an effort to develop a better diagnostic.
  • Chase Beisel, PhD, assistant professor, North Carolina State University. Dr. Beisel is exploring the potential ability of CRISPR-Cas genome targeting to kill the bacteria that causes Lyme.
  • Lisa K. Blum, PhD, postdoctoral fellow, Stanford University School of Medicine. Dr. Blum is researching an immune response to Lyme disease that has the potential to help elucidate why some people have short-term symptoms from a Lyme infection and why others become chronically ill, as well as the hope of leading to the development of an improved diagnostic and/or therapeutic.
  • Jerome F. M. Bouquet, PhD, postdoctoral fellow, University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Bouquet is researching potential “biomarkers” that will allow for the development of a clinical diagnostic for both acute and post-treatment Lyme disease.
  • John Branda, MD, assistant professor, Harvard Medical School and assistant pathologist, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). Dr. Branda’s research focuses on improving patient care through the development of new diagnostic strategies and the optimization of laboratory tests and antimicrobial agents, including tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme borreliosis, anaplasmosis, and tularemia.
  • Nira Pollack, MD, PhD, assistant professor, Harvard Medical School, and associate medical director of the Infectious Diseases Diagnostic Laboratory at Boston Children’s Hospital. Dr. Pollock’s research has a special interest in the development and evaluation of novel diagnostic tests for infectious diseases and related applications. Her Lyme-related work has included the discovery of novel biomarkers of early Lyme borreliosis.

Applications will be accepted from researchers throughout the United States through March 1, 2019. Applicants must submit an application, research proposal, and at least one supporting letter from their supervising manager or Principal Investigator. Announcements of Awards will be made during Bay Area Lyme Foundation’s annual LymeAid® fundraising event in May 2019. The full criteria and application for this award can be found at www.bayarealyme.org/our-research/emerging-leader-award.

About Bay Area Lyme Foundation Emerging Leader Awards
The Emerging Leader Awards from Bay Area Lyme Foundation are made possible each year by generous donations from the LaureL STEM Fund and the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation. 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 most common 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. If caught early, most cases of Lyme disease can be effectively treated, but it is commonly misdiagnosed due to lack of awareness and unreliable diagnostic tests. There are about 329,000 new cases of Lyme disease each year, according to statistics released in 2015 by the CDC. And, this number is rising annually as 427,430 new Lyme cases are believed to have occurred in the US alone in 2017. 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 not-for-profit 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 Foundation covers 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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