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Peer-reviewed Journal Frontiers in Immunology Publishes Important New Research From a Team Led by Bay Area Lyme Foundation’s First Emerging Leader Award Recipient

PORTOLA VALLEY, CA, August, 2018 — Bay Area Lyme Foundation, a leading nonprofit funder of innovative Lyme disease research in the US, today announced the publication of new data that offer valuable insights into the role of the immune system in fighting acute Lyme disease.

The data demonstrate a correlation between initial activation of specific components of the immune response, and a patient’s ability to recover following 21 days of doxycycline. Published in Frontiers in Immunology, the research, primarily funded by the Bay Area Lyme Foundation, was led by Lisa K. Blum, Ph.D., a former postdoctoral scholar at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Blum was one of the first recipients of the Bay Area Lyme Foundation Emerging Leader Award, a grant designed to support the research of promising scientists into Lyme disease and the bacteria that causes it, B. burgdorferi. 

“This research addresses one of the ongoing mysteries of Lyme disease, providing important evidence toward understanding why some people get better after a 21-day course of doxycycline, and some remain sick,” said Wendy Adams, research grant director, Bay Area Lyme Foundation. “The insights from this study not only show that both a competent immune response AND antibiotics are necessary to rid the infection, but also point us toward research avenues that could lead to new therapeutics.”

The data show that patients who did not demonstrate strong B-cell immune responses were more likely to experience post-treatment symptoms. Researchers found that the study participants who fully returned to health following 21 days of doxycycline treatment had significantly higher levels of a type of blood B cells, known as plasmablasts, prior to treatment than the patients who experienced persistent symptoms and met the criteria for diagnosis for post treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS) for at least 6 months following treatment. Importantly, the study also found that plasmablast levels may be useful in predicting which patients have a higher chance of treatment failure after a short course of antibiotics. These data confirm previous findings in some animal models showing demonstrable immune system suppression after infection and wide variability in the immune response among different animals after infection.

In addition to an association between plasmablasts and disease resolution, researchers also found that patients with persistent symptoms had a lower antibody response; more specifically, these patients exhibited reduced clonal expansion of B-cells.

Patients enrolled in the study consisted of 32 first-time Lyme patients exhibiting acute early-stage symptoms including a bull’s-eye-shaped rash, and 18 healthy participants who served as controls. Patients were treated with oral doxycycline treatment for 21 days, per Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) treatment guidelines. Blood tests, administered to Lyme disease patients at the pretreatment stage, 1-month post treatment, and 6-months post treatment, were analyzed using flow cytometry and antibody repertoire sequencing.  Samples from healthy controls were collected at an initial visit, 6 months, and 1 year. The definition of post treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS) for the purposes of the study are based on the IDSA’s proposed case definition.

Bay Area Lyme Foundation scientific advisory board members who contributed to the research included senior author William H. Robinson, M.D., Ph.D., Stanford University School of Medicine; Monica Embers, Ph.D., Tulane University; and John Aucott, M.D., Johns Hopkins University.

Lisa Blum, PhD, received the Bay Area Lyme Foundation Emerging Leader Award in 2014. Other Emerging Leader Award recipients have come from institutions including Brandeis University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Louisiana State University, North Carolina State University and University of California, San Francisco. The most recent Emerging Leader Award winners were: George Church, Ph.D. and Ting Wu, Ph.D, who were each 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. who each received $100,000 toward therapeutic research.

The Emerging Leader Awards from Bay Area Lyme Foundation were initiated based on a grant from the LaureL Foundation, and are currently made possible each year by a generous donation from the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation. This year, a supplemental donation by Emily and Malcolm Fairbairn enabled 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 therapeutics 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

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 or call us at 650-530-2439


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