Public Release: 

Columbia Center receives grant from Cohen Foundation to study tick borne diseases

Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health

February 16, 2016 -The Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health announced today that it has received a $1.9 million grant from the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation for tick-borne disease research. The grant will support research into the role in human disease of known and as-yet-to be-discovered tick-borne bacteria and viruses by determining the tick microbiome and testing for the presence of potential pathogens using molecular and serological methods.

"I was shocked to learn how many people suffer from Lyme disease in silence, and how much we still need to do to raise awareness and help find a cure," said Alex Cohen, President of the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation. "This gift is incredibly personal to me as I have experienced, first-hand, the chronic and debilitating side effects of this understudied disease. We share the Center for Infection and Immunity's desire to find a cure for Lyme disease and hope that this gift will help pave the way to that important work."

Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and transmitted to humans through the bite of infected ticks. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash. If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system. There are about 329,000 new cases of Lyme disease each year, according to CDC statistics. 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.

"Our hypothesis is that some patients with ongoing symptoms who have not responded to antibiotics known to be effective against Borrelia may be infected with viruses or other antibiotic resistant bacteria," said Ian Lipkin, MD, director of the Center for Infection and Immunity. "This generous award from the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation will allow us to pursue discovery and surveillance efforts needed to rigorously test this hypothesis."


About the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health

The Center, led by W. Ian Lipkin, MD, the John Snow Professor of Epidemiology at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, is one of the world's largest academic centers for microbial surveillance, diagnosis, and discovery. Dr. Lipkin and his team pursue research to determine the role of microbes in the development of disease and to dissect the mechanisms by which the response to infection results in disease. The team pioneered genetic methods to rapidly identify infectious agents and has molecularly characterized more than 700 viruses associated with disease in humans and wildlife including 20 novel viruses in ticks alone.

About the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation

The Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation is committed to inspiring philanthropy and community service - with special interest in children's health, education, veterans, and the arts - by creating awareness, offering guidance, and leading by example to show the world what giving can do. The Cohen Foundation's Lyme Initiative is investing to cure Lyme, which infects over 300,000 Americans each year and leaves 10-20% with persistent, life-altering symptoms. Through funding leading researchers and innovators, the Foundation will improve our ability to prevent, diagnose, and treat all stages of Lyme disease.

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