The Tufts Lyme Disease Challenge, to be held November 1, is a new competition that will bring together Tufts’ wide-ranging research powers to brainstorm new ways to tackle an increasing health problem. Lyme disease, a bacterial infection typically transmitted by tick bites, is one of the fastest growing infectious diseases in the country, totaling an estimated 300,000 new cases each year.
“The idea is to draw in people who have not worked on Lyme disease before and give them an understanding of the challenges that the field faces,” said Linden Hu, the vice dean of research at Tufts School of Medicine. Hu, who works with leading pharmaceutical companies in the development of vaccines and other prevention approaches, has been involved in Lyme disease research for twenty years. He said he’s ready to hear from new voices with new perspectives.
The hope is that students and faculty from disparate fields will be able to apply the technologies they already work with to the fight against Lyme disease. For example, a post-doc familiar with geographic information systems might work with an ecologist to map the relation between weather and Lyme disease risk. A computer science student who understands facial recognition software could work with an entomologist to develop a phone app to identify ticks—and their likelihood of carrying disease—in the field.
The idea for the challenge was sparked by Tufts trustee Hugh Roome, A74, F77, AG74, FG80, FG80, A11P, F15P, A18P, who saw a way to make a societal impact by leveraging Tufts’ expertise in Lyme disease. Over the last decade, Tufts faculty have received more NIH funding for Lyme disease research than faculty at any other institution. The challenge is a first step in the larger Tufts Lyme Disease Initiative, started this year by Tufts faculty. Its mission is to eliminate Lyme disease as a growing human health threat by 2030.
The program will include a keynote address by Amy Ullmann, a public health advisor for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who monitors Lyme disease research both inside and outside the CDC. Panel discussions will highlight some of the barriers to success in controlling Lyme disease and look at why it continues to spread despite best efforts.
The participants will then have the opportunity to form teams and develop their approaches, which might be aimed at filling gaps in diagnosis, treatment, prevention, public policy, or education. Lyme disease experts from the School of Medicine, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, the School of Engineering, and Tufts Medical Center will be on hand to coach the teams.
After the event, teams can submit their ideas, and winning teams will be awarded $1,000–$5,000 to bring their proposals to fruition.
Sam Telford, a professor of infectious disease and global health at Cummings School and a leading expert on tick-borne illnesses, said he hopes that “the university community as a whole and students in particular become aware of the breadth and depth of Lyme disease research at Tufts.”
The Tufts Lyme Disease Challenge will take place Friday, November 1 from 1 to 5:30 p.m. in Remis Sculpture Court on the Medford/Somerville campus. Visit www.tuftslymedisease.org for more information and to register.
Julie Flaherty can be reached at email@example.com.