Targeting Lyme Disease

Hackathon teams aim for solutions using big data, mobile technology and more

Image: iStock

Image: iStock

Nearly 100 scientists, clinicians, researchers, entrepreneurs, investors, patients and advocates from the U.S. and Canada came together at Lyme Innovation, the first ever hackathon for the disease, where they formed sixteen multidisciplinary teams to find cutting edge solutions to the challenges of prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation for Lyme disease.

With an estimated 300,000 cases per year, the illness is the most common vector-borne disease in the United States. Researchers at the hackathon noted that the biology of Lyme disease is confoundingly complex and that current diagnostic tools and treatments do not work well against all forms of the illness.

"Holding a Lyme disease hackathon was critical in order to accelerate innovation and research and to develop a longer and more diverse pipeline of scientist and entrepreneurs dedicated to expediting solutions in the field of Lyme disease," said Lyme Innovation lead Nevena Zubcevik, who is an instructor in the HMS Department of Physical Medical and Rehabilitation at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital and clinical co-director of the Spaulding Rehabilitation Network’s Dean Center for Tick Borne Illness.

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The three-day event in June, a partnership between Spaulding’s Dean Center for Tick Borne Illness, the VA Center for Innovation, the HMS Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Spaulding, MIT Hacking Medicine, and the Berkeley-Haas Entrepreneurship Program was held at the Microsoft New England R & D Center in Cambridge.

A series of speakers shared context and encouragement with the participants and highlighted the importance of working together across disciplines.

"Collaboration is the key to solving the myriad of challenges of Lyme disease," said Wendy Adams, a member of the science committee of the Bay Area Lyme Foundation. "It has been exciting to see such a wide range of expertise and enthusiasm come together to focus on solutions for this serious disease."

David Maron, chief of biostatistics at Washington DC Veterans Affairs Medical Center, noted that the novel solutions developed through the integration of expertise from a variety of disciplines at the hackathon inspired hope for advances in the control and treatment of Lyme disease.

Kristen Honey, policy advisor in the Office of Science and Technology Policy of the White House Executive Office of the President, was the featured keynote speaker.

Five teams of finalists each received $5,000 and the opportunity to compete for additional grants. Lyme Innovation will present awards to the top three teams at the White House Open Data Summit on September 28th.

The projects selected for seed funding focused on

  • the identification of novel treatment targets for the bacteria that causes Lyme disease utilizing the University of Massachusetts Plant Cell Culture Library at UMass Amherst;
  • research of a compound currently in clinical trials for cancer which could block the bacteria from changing its DNA so that the immune system can recognize and respond to the pathogen;
  • a tracking system for patients to record their symptoms and vital signs, which will assist physicians in better understanding how each patient responds to treatment;
  • a patient-powered platform to combat the isolation and depression patients experience that taps into the Crisis Text Line, a free platform with volunteers who assist people in crisis; and
  • a tracking tool capable of predicting the risk of Lyme disease to humans based on research showing that canine infection rates are predictive of human risk.

Recognition awards were also given to teams in the areas of public health, prevention, education and diagnostics at the hackathon.

Presentations can be found at and learn more at

Lyme Innovation was sponsored by the Bay Area Lyme Foundation, with additional funding from State Street Foundation and RA Capital Management, 

Adapted from a Spaulding news release.