In this conversation between Ticktective™ host Dana Parish and Harvard-trained pediatrician Charlotte Mao, MD, the discussion focuses on how Dr. Mao gradually moved away from the narrow view of Lyme disease and began to champion understanding and therapeutics for children suffering from persistent Lyme. They explore tick-borne diseases and their connection to other chronic illnesses that are often misunderstood and misdiagnosed by conventional medicine. Note: This transcribed podcast has been edited for clarity.
Dana Parish: Welcome to the Ticktective Podcast, a program of the Bay Area Lyme Foundation, where our mission is to make Lyme disease easy to diagnose, and simple to cure. I’m your guest host today, Dana Parish. I’m the co-author of the book Chronic, and I’m on the advisory board of Bay Area Lyme Foundation. This program offers insightful interviews with clinicians, scientists, patients, and other interesting people. We’re a non-profit foundation based in Silicon Valley, and thanks to a generous grant that covers a hundred percent of our overhead, all of your donations go directly to our research and our prevention programs. For more information about Lyme disease, please visit us atbayarealyme.org.
Dana Parish: Hi I’m so excited to guest host the Ticktective podcast today. I want to introduce you to a very dear friend of mine, one of the most brilliant, curious, interesting, funny, and dearest people. Please welcome Dr. Charlotte Mao. She is a pediatric infectious diseases physician with a special focus on Lyme disease and associated infections. She received her medical degree at Harvard Medical School and did her pediatric and infectious diseases training at Boston Children’s Hospital. The first 25 years of her career were focused primarily on pediatric HIV clinical care and clinical research, serving as a site co-investigator for numerous NIH funded multi-center pediatric HIV clinical trials at Boston Children’s Hospital. She turned her focus to Lyme and associated diseases after gaining extensive clinical experience with pediatric Lyme patients in Boston children’s hospital’s referring ID clinic. Then she joined the Pediatric Infectious Disease Department at Mass General Hospital and Spaulding Rehab Hospital Dean Center for Tick-borne Illness, where she was the pediatric IG specialist in a multidisciplinary clinic for children with complex Lyme disease. She is currently curriculum director for Invisible International. She most recently served on a tick-borne disease working group subcommittee for prevention and treatment and co-organized a Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Banbury Conference on perinatal transmission of Lyme Disease. She’s also on the Bay Area Lyme Foundation’s Science Committee. Welcome, Charlotte. It’s so great to see you!
Bay Area Lyme Foundation Researcher Validates New Approach to Overcome Challenges of Lyme Disease Diagnosis in the Lab
Using samples from the Lyme Disease Biobank, Raman spectroscopy is identified as a potentially more sensitive test for diagnosing Lyme disease
Portola Valley, CA, February 9, 2023 — Bay Area Lyme Foundation, a leading sponsor of Lyme disease research in the US, today announced results of a laboratory study published in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology that identifies Raman spectroscopy as a promising diagnostic approach for Lyme disease, a condition that affects nearly 500,000 new patients annually. Conducted by one of Bay Area Lyme Foundation’s Emerging Leader Award winners, Artem Rogovskyy, PhD, DVM, along with researchers from Texas A&M University, the study identified Borrelia infection with 88% accuracy, 85% sensitivity, and 90% specificity using Raman spectroscopy, a light-based test commonly used in chemistry labs, to evaluate human blood samples provided by Bay Area Lyme Foundation’s Lyme Disease Biobank.
“By identifying a unique spectrum fingerprint to detect Lyme borreliosis faster, Raman spectroscopy has the potential to diagnose the disease earlier,” said Dr. Rogovskyy, associate professor of Veterinary Pathobiology at the School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University. “We hope that developing an effective, robust, and rapid diagnostic test will help overcome current challenges in Lyme disease diagnosis.”
The study aims to address the immediate need for more sensitive diagnostics in Lyme disease as the current gold standard diagnostic has been shown to be insensitive in up to 60% of early-stage patients and up to 30% of late-stage patients.
“The lack of an accurate diagnostic test is not only a challenge for clinicians trying to properly diagnose and treat patients, but also makes clinical trials for new treatments difficult,” said Linda Giampa, executive director, Bay Area Lyme Foundation. “Our hope is that new approaches like this one will allow for early detection and treatment of all patients with Lyme disease.”
New Study Finds American Dog Tick Populations Expanding into Colorado, and Identifies Rocky Mountain Wood Ticks in 5 More Counties Than Documented by CDC
Citizen scientists contributing to Bay Area Lyme Foundation’s Free Tick Testing program assist in identifying ticks capable of carrying disease in Colorado
Portola Valley, CA, October 25, 2022—Bay Area Lyme Foundation, a leading sponsor of Lyme disease research in the US, today announced results of a study published in the November issue of the peer-reviewed journal Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases demonstrating that ticks capable of carrying diseases, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Colorado tick fever and the neurotoxin that causes tick-borne paralysis, pose an emerging threat in Colorado. The results show American dog ticks are very much present in 16 counties in Colorado, where they were not previously identified by the CDC, and Rocky Mountain wood ticks are found in 38 of the 64 Colorado counties, whereas they had only been identified in 33 previously. The study leveraged several sources for the study, including ticks collected by citizen scientists as part of a free tick testing program offered by the Bay Area Lyme Foundation.
“The critical takeaway from this study is that Coloradans need to take preventative measures against ticks when outdoors, such as tick checks, and doctors should be more vigilant for symptoms of tick-borne diseases including those carried by Rocky Mountain wood ticks and American dog ticks,” said Linda Giampa, executive director, Bay Area Lyme Foundation. “This ecology study illustrates the power of leveraging citizen science, and we are grateful for the more than 20,000 ticks that were submitted to our national program and made this study possible.”
Conducted by researchers from Colorado State University and funded by the Bay Area Lyme Foundation, the study aimed to quantify the current county-level distribution of Rocky Mountain wood ticks, Dermacentor andersoni, and American dog ticks, Dermacentor variabilis. The study evaluated data from ticks collected by citizen scientists and evaluated at Northern Arizona University as part of Bay Area Lyme Foundation’s Free Tick Testing program, distribution data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, veterinary surveillance at Oklahoma State University, and literature data.
Bay Area Lyme Foundation Offers $150,000 Grant for Emerging Leaders in Lyme Disease Research
Annual award seeks to attract innovative researchers with a new approach to overcome the challenges of tick-borne diseases
PORTOLA VALLEY, Calif., October 19, 2022—Bay Area Lyme Foundation, a leading sponsor of Lyme disease research in the US, is announcing a call for entries for their 2023 Emerging Leader Awards (ELA), which aim to recognize both established and up-and-coming researchers bringing new approaches and creative thinking to the field of Lyme disease. This year, the Foundation has increased the ELA award to $150,000 for researchers in academia or the private sector who are at the post-doctoral level through associate professor level.
While applicants must have a defined approach to improving diagnostics and therapeutics for Lyme disease, the grants are open to those who have previously worked in Lyme disease research as well as researchers from other therapeutic areas. Applications will be accepted through February 15, 2023 at 11:59pm, Pacific Time. The full criteria and application for this award can be found at https://www.bayarealyme.org/our-research/emerging-leader-award/.
“Despite modest increases in government funding, there is still a significant need for ‘out of the box’ ideas pulled from proven scientific approaches in other therapeutic areas,” said Wendy Adams, research grant director Bay Area Lyme Foundation. “We fund innovative scientifically-sound research and are seeking driven, rigorous scientists who can help make progress towards developing accurate diagnostic tests and effective therapeutics for various stages of the disease.”
The Emerging Leader Award is designed to support research that will increase the scope of investigation in Lyme disease and help develop better diagnostics and treatments. Bay Area Lyme Foundation encourages researchers to explore novel, scientifically well-founded concepts with potential utility toward that goal. Many ELA recipients have subsequently received grants from other groups including the NIH, as well as continued support from Bay Area Lyme Foundation. The efforts funded by this award are required to generate initial proof of concept within 12-24 months and requires applicants to demonstrate professional and scientific leadership in the biomedical sciences and a strong supporting scientific rationale.
“With the lack of government initiative to make Lyme and tick-borne diseases easy to diagnose and simple to cure, it’s up to organizations like Bay Area Lyme and Lyme Disease Biobank to expand our understanding of tick-borne diseases.” –Harrison S., LDB participant
“I participated in the Biobank program because I want to support legitimate science—it’s the compass pointing us in the direction that will lead to better diagnostics and therapeutics for Lyme patients. I am grateful that BAL is funding this critical research which is so sorely needed, and doing it expeditiously. It goes a long way to make up for the five decades of inaction by the CDC and HHS.” – Rebecca W., LDB participant
Over three days in June, the Lyme Disease Biobank (LDB) welcomed participants to Gordon Medical Associates, our LDB collection site in San Rafael, CA. Persistent/chronic Lyme patients traveled from as far away as Sacramento, CA, and Reno, NV, to donate blood and urine samples to the Biobank. LDB, a program of Bay Area Lyme Foundation, was founded to ensure an adequate number of samples for researchers investigating Lyme and tick-borne diseases.
Bay Area Lyme Foundation Selects National Winners of the 2022 Emerging Leader Awards Aimed at Making Lyme Disease Easy to Diagnose and Simple to Cure
Winners Nichole Pedowitz PhD, of Stanford University and Peter Gwynne PhD, of Tufts University will focus on developing novel diagnostic tests that can identify patients with Lyme disease
PORTOLA VALLEY, Calif., August 9, 2022—Bay Area Lyme Foundation, a leading sponsor of Lyme disease research in the US, announces the recipients of the 2022 Emerging Leader Awards (ELA), which are designed to support promising scientists who are advancing development of accurate and effective diagnostic tests. Both awardees this year are focused on diagnostics, which is particularly important as the current gold standard diagnostic test has been shown to be insensitive in up to 60% of early-stage disease.
This year’s winners are Nichole Pedowitz, PhD, of Stanford University, who will receive $100,000 for her work to develop a new rapid diagnostic to directly test for the bacteria that causes Lyme disease and Peter Gwynne, PhD, of Tufts University, who will receive $100,000 to further identify antibodies which may be markers of persistent Lyme disease infection.
“The lack of a reliable test for Lyme disease makes it not only impossible to ensure that patients receive prompt, appropriate care but also challenging for scientists and clinicians to evaluate emerging treatments,” said Linda Giampa, executive director, Bay Area Lyme Foundation. “Our hope is that Drs. Pedowitz and Gwynne will make strides toward the development of diagnostic tests that will be effective in identifying Lyme patients at various stages of the disease.”
The natural law of things is that when there is a vacuum energy moves into that space to fill it up. The vacuum is then no longer a space or hole, it’s a place or an entity where energies from different locations come together and create new things.
So it is with the Lyme disease community: there are multiple nonprofit organizations across the country that have been founded to tackle complex issues in Lyme and tick-borne diseases, and as a result many people with Lyme—and their families—have stepped up to fill a vacuum and taken matters into their own hands.
In the Lyme disease ecosphere—just as in life—we are stronger, more effective, and more impactful when we join together and pull in the same direction, rather than fragmenting our efforts and competing for resources and attention. This was the simple conclusion that Bay Area Lyme Foundation and Project Lyme came to back in 2018, and the two foundations’ partnership has subsequently gone from strength to strength.
“Bay Area Lyme was looking for an East Coast partner to extend our organizational profile and boost our fundraising footprint in a collaborative spirit,” comments Linda Giampa, executive director of Bay Area Lyme Foundation. “We had a solid network back east and had conducted a number of speaker events in New York City. We thought that joining forces with the right East Coast group could provide us with important connections, amplify our fundraising, and raise our profile nationally.”
A new type of Lyme disease test aimed at early-stage infection detection is hitting doctors’ offices, and we all should thank Lyme patients for making this happen. This test named T-Detect Lyme™, was recently unveiled by Adaptive Biotechnologies, and is an advanced indirect-detection blood test that allows for detection of an acute Lyme infection earlier than antibody response tests.
Our Lyme Disease Biobank (LDB) and Dr. John Aucott’s SLICE Lab at Johns Hopkins University provided the Lyme patient blood samples for Adaptive’s new T-Detect Lyme™ test development. The LDB, a program of Bay Area Lyme, was created in 2014 and began collecting patient samples in 2015 specifically to drive this form of diagnostic innovation. By engaging Lyme patients and providing well-characterized samples to approved researchers and partnering with innovative organizations like Adaptive, the LDB research engine is now delivering long-planned-for results.
“This breakthrough from Adaptive validates the power of patient-driven research. Without the participation of patients who gave blood to our Lyme Disease Biobank, this impactful new test could not have been developed,” commented Linda Giampa, executive director, Bay Area Lyme Foundation. “We wish to thank all the patients who came forward to participate in this important program and to encourage others to give samples.”
How a chance meeting and the harnessing of big data led to a research initiative that’s finding answers in Lyme and tick-borne disease
Many different groups comprise the Lyme disease community including patients, their families, healthcare providers, researchers and nonprofit organizations. These nonprofit organizations and foundations may differ in size, structure, fiscal basis, focus and approach, but in one important aspect they are united: the search for answers.
This search for answers in the realm of Lyme and tick-borne diseases has served as a unifying driver, even when dissent and controversy has sometimes fragmented the Lyme community. And despite what seems to be a constant uphill battle for recognition and legitimacy of Lyme and tick-borne infections, many believe that we’re on the brink of major breakthroughs to help patients and doctors unlock the medical mysteries that make these infectious diseases so confounding. Two people cautiously optimistic about where we are in the search for answers about Lyme are Liz Horn, PhD, MBI, Principal Investigator, Lyme Disease Biobank, and Lorraine Johnson, JD, MBA, Chief Executive Officer, LymeDisease.org and Principal Investigator MyLymeData.
Remember when we used to watch Captain Kirk talk into his chirping communicator and order Scotty to beam him up? And what about that handy medical scanner the size of a pack of cards that Dr. McCoy waved around to assess and diagnose his patients in the starship’s sick bay? We may now all have smartphones to stay in constant touch with each other, but outside of a state-of-the-art hospital with multi-million-dollar scanners and MRI machines, we are still some years away from the Star Fleet’s instantaneous medical technology, right?
Advances in our ability to gather real-time information on the human body are poised to revolutionize not just how we diagnose diseases, but make dramatic, life-altering, positive impacts on the critical timeline for diagnosis and treatment by detecting a disease event before symptoms occur. And Bay Area Lyme is leading the way by investing in research that will further illuminate our understanding of how—in real time—a Lyme infection impacts the human body through the data collected by wearable technologies.