About ELA

The Bay Area Lyme Foundation Emerging Leader Awards (ELA) recognize researchers bringing new approaches and creative thinking to the field of Lyme disease. These grants support new and innovative projects and aim to attract aspiring new scientific talent to the field of Lyme. Candidate applications must include a viable proposal for a proof-of-concept project to be funded, in part or in sum, by the grant award.

Selection Process

The 2019 deadline was be March 1, 2019, and we are no longer accepting applications for 2019.   

For more information or questions, please contact the foundation offices at info@bayarealyme.org or tel. 650.530.2439.

Who Qualifies?

  • Affiliated with an academic or research institution in the U.S. or corporate equivalent
  • Demonstrated professional and scientific leadership in biological and medical sciences
  • Exhibited scientific curiosity and an established pattern of creative thinking
  • A defined approach to improved diagnostics or therapies for Lyme disease

How Much?

$100,000 ELA grants will be awarded to researchers in academia or the private sector who are currently at the post-doctoral level through the assistant professor level, or equivalent. Applicants must have identified a defined approach to improving diagnostics or therapies for Lyme disease. Important criteria include demonstrated professional and scientific leadership in the biomedical sciences and a strong supporting scientific rationale for the project. Research efforts funded by this award are required to generate initial proof of concept within 12–18 months. In 2019, we anticipate granting two of these $100,000 awards.

Evaluation Criteria

  • Potential for research to lead to a novel therapy or diagnostic for Lyme disease
  • Scientific rationale supporting the application (perhaps validated in another field)
  • Applicant’s track record for project execution
  • Support from Principal Investigator and affiliated institution
  • Co-investigators will be considered on a case by case basis but may not be for more than 33% of the total grant amount
  • Timeline: Application shows sufficient potential to generate initial proof of concept within 12–18 months
  • It is the policy of the Bay Area Lyme Foundation to pay no more than 5% of any grant toward overhead or indirect costs.


2018 ELA Winners

In 2018, thanks to the generous contributions from The Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation, Bay Area Lyme Foundation presented four ELA awards totaling $700,000 in project grants to bring innovative projects to proof-of-concept.

George Church, PhD: 2018 Emerging Leader Award Recipient ($250,000 grant)
Founding Core Faculty & Lead, Synthetic Biology; Wyss Institute at Harvard University; Professor of Genetics, Harvard Medical School; Professor of Health Sciences and Technology, Harvard and MIT
Dr. George M. Church is known for pioneering the specialized fields of personal genomics and synthetic biology. He is director of the National Institutes of Health Center for Excellence in Genomic Science and has co-authored 450 papers, 95 patent publications, as well as the book Regenesis. Dr. Church has received numerous awards including the 2011 Bower Award and Prize for Achievement in Science from the Franklin Institute and the number four spot on The Scientist’s Top Innovations of 2008 list. His project was selected for the 2018 Emerging Leader Award, a $250,000 grant. Click here for project details.

Ting Wu, PhD: 2018 Emerging Leader Award Recipient ($250,000 grant)
Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School; Director of the Consortium for Space Genetics; Director of the Personal Genetics Education Project
Dr. Ting Wu’s laboratory is dedicated to expanding our understanding of genome structure and function, focusing most heavily on the extraordinary relationship of the three-dimensional organization of the genome to genome inheritance and activity. Dr. Wu is the recipient of an NIH Director’s 2012 Pioneer Award as well as an NIH Director’s 2016 Transformative Research Award. Her project was selected for the 2018 Emerging Leader Award, a $250,000 grant. Click here for project details.

Steven Phillips, MD: 2018 Emerging Leader Award Recipient ($100,000 grant)
Principal Investigator for Kyronyx Biosciences
A world-renowned expert on zoonotic infections, Dr. Phillips has treated over 20,000 patients from over 20 countries. He is well-published in the peer-reviewed medical literature, acclaimed for his work in linking chronic diseases, and specializes in the management of stealth pathogens, which include Lyme disease, bartonellosis, babesiosis, and other vector-borne diseases. He is currently involved in drug development to bring public a durable and effective treatment for this infection and change the face of rheumatology forever. His project, detailed below, was selected for the 2018 Emerging Leader Award, a $100,000 grant. Click here for project details.

Michal Caspi Tal, PhD: 2018 Emerging Leader Award Recipient ($100,000 grant)
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, Stanford University
Dr. Michal Tal, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, leads the infectious disease team within Irving Weissman’s lab at Stanford University. She is studying the immunomodulatory mechanisms by which the CD47-SIRPa axis impacts immune clearance of infectious disease. She is interested in the mechanisms of immune regulation that rein in the immune response and can be targeted to enable clearance of chronic infection. Her project, detailed below, was selected for the 2018 Emerging Leader Award, a $100,000 grant. Click here for project details.

Previous Honorees


2017 ELA Winners

Bay Area Lyme Foundation was pleased to announce the winners of the 2017 Emerging Leader Awards. Thanks to the generous contributions from The Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation, we presented two ELA awards totaling $350,000 in project grants to bring innovative projects to proof-of-concept.

$250,000 ELA Grant

James J. Collins, PhD
Core Faculty, Wyss Institute, Harvard University; Termeer Professor of Medical Engineering & Science; Professor of Biological Engineering, MIT

Dr. Collins and his lab work in 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. Professor Collins’s patented technologies have been licensed by over 25 biotech, pharma and medical devices companies, and he has received numerous awards and honors, including a Rhodes Scholarship and a MacArthur “Genius” Award. Professor Collins is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, and a charter fellow of the National Academy of Inventors. He received his AB in Physics at Holy Cross, where he was valedictorian, and his PhD in Medical Engineering at Oxford.

Project Overview
Dr. Collins’s ELA project focuses on highly sensitive, paper-based, direct detection RNA-based diagnostics for Borrelia burgdorferi and early Lyme disease. The amount of borrelial RNA in a blood sample of a patient with Lyme is likely to be present in much larger quantities than the DNA, making direct detection of the pathogen easier. His lab recently developed a platform for direct detection of RNA that combines programmable molecular sensors called RNA toehold switches with an expression system that can be freeze dried onto paper discs. Toehold switch sensors are synthetic regulators that control the translation of a gene, and these can be designed to bind and sense any RNA sequence.

$100,000 ELA Grant

Yuko Nakajima, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow, Brandeis University

Dr. Nakajima is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow in the lab of James E. Haber at Brandeis. Prior to beginning her Borrelia burgdorferi research, her work investigated the relationship between DNA damage and spindle assembly checkpoints during cell division. She also performed postdoctoral research at Rockefeller University and served as a research assistant at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Dr. Nakajima received her BS in Biological Sciences from Purdue University and her PhD at the University of California, Berkeley.

Project Overview
Dr. Nakajima’s ELA project focuses on outsmarting smart bugs by blocking immune evasion by Borrelia burgdoferi and other pathogens through gene conversion. Just like in cancer, gene conversion was recently shown to be instrumental in Borrelia burgdoferi’s ability to change its surface proteins and thus keep the immune system from manufacturing antibodies that match the currently expressed proteins. This ability to change its proteins is mediated by an unusual DNA structure called a G-quadruplex. A drug blocking G-quadruplex activity in cancer cells is currently in clinical trials. Dr. Nakajima will study the G-quadruplex in Borrelia burgdorferi and then test different small molecules to detect which may be most able to block this coping mechanism.

2016 ELA Recipients

Bay Area Lyme Foundation presents the winners of the 2016 Emerging Leader Awards. Thanks to the generous contributions from The Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation and The Laurel Foundation, we presented two ELA awards with each recipient receiving a $100,000 project grant to bring an innovative project to proof-of-concept.

Alexandra Cohen Emerging Leader Award

Britton J. Grasperge, PhD

Assistant Professor – Clinical Pathology, Louisiana State University


Laure Woods Emerging Leader Award

Chase Beisel, PhD

Assistant Professor, Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, NC State University


2015 ELA Recipients

John Branda_ELA Award RecipientJohn A. Branda, MD

Assistant Professor, Harvard Medical School and Assistant Pathologist, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Associate Director of the Clinical Microbiology Laboratories at MGH and Director of the Clinical Laboratory at Nantucket Cottage Hospital

Nira Pollock, MD, PhD

Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School, and Associate Medical Director of the Infectious Diseases Diagnostic Laboratory at Boston Children’s Hospital


2014 ELA Recipients

Jerome Bouquet Jerome F. Bouquet, PhD

A postdoctoral fellow at University of California, San Francisco for his project: Development of a Host Biomarker Assay for the Diagnosis of Acute Lyme Disease and Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome


Lisa BlumLisa K. Blum, PhD

A postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University for her project: Sequencing of Antibody Responses to Borrelia burgdorferi Infection—Generation of Recombinant Antibodies with Diagnostic and Therapeutic Utility