Lymedisease.org Contributes $150,000 to UNH for Lyme Research
Lymedisease.org Contributes $150,000 to UNH for Lyme Research

by Karen Grava
Director of Media Relations


Lymedisease.org, a nonprofit organization that advocates for Lyme disease patients and promotes research on tick-borne illness, has contributed $150,000 to support the research of Eva Sapi, associate professor of biology and environmental science.

Approximately $100,000 of the gift has funded the purchase of an atomic force microscope, which allows the study of the structure of bacteria under very high resolution. The microscope will be used by Sapi, who contracted Lyme disease some years ago, and has researched the antibiotic sensitivity of Lyme disease bacteria ever since.

Eva Sapi and her students work with the University's new atomic force microscope. The purchase was funded through a gift from Lymedisease.org.

Her work has demonstrated that the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, responsible for Lyme disease, is capable of forming a biofilm that allows it to hide and resist antibiotic treatments and other unfavorable environmental conditions such as nutrition deprivation, high ambient pH or adverse temperature.
“This microscope will allow Dr. Sapi and our students to further this important research,” said Lourdes Alvarez, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Contributions like this help enormously to fund studies that eventually could lead to a cure.”

The microscope, built to Sapi’s specifications for Lyme research, will supplement an older microscope used by the physics department for research on nanomaterial. The new atomic microscope will be used by about 15 undergraduate and graduate researchers in Sapi’s program and by other scientists and students studying cancer.

“People with Lyme disease, along with their families and friends, are well aware of the significance of Dr. Sapi’s research and the promise it holds for improving treatment,” said Lorraine Johnson, LymeDisease.org’s executive director. “When we put out the word that we wanted to further Dr. Sapi’s work in this way, contributions started rolling in.”

Almost a third of the amount was raised in small increments – $5, $25 or $100 – via a crowdfunding Internet fundraising site, Johnson said. The rest came in larger contributions.

“All the donations, big and small, came from people who appreciate Dr. Sapi’s pioneering research,” Johnson said. “They recognize that her work is vital to helping us understand how to detect and, ultimately, cure Lyme disease.”

After the purchase of the microscope, the remaining funds will be used to further Sapi’s research into developing a better understanding the biofilm formation by Borrelia and into finding potential therapeutic targets for Lyme disease. 

“There is so much work to be done on Borrelia, which has caused disease in all 50 states,” said Sapi. “Having access to this microscope will improve efficiency and further our investigation into how Lyme disease evades antibiotics.”

The microscope will be used to observe and document Borrelia biofilm development in live specimens and to find and characterize Borrelia biofilm in different human tissues and in ticks infected with Borrelia.

“We want to better understand Borrelia biofilm development, so we can develop strategies to
eliminate it,” Sapi said. “We also would like to know where this biofilm forms in the body.”

LymeDisease.org, founded in 1989, advocates for the rights of Lyme disease patients, educates about tick-borne disease and supports research. The organization provides news, information and health-care policy analysis, via its website, social media outlets and its quarterly journal, The Lyme Times. It conducts and publishes the largest patient surveys of Lyme-related health care issues, and it maintains a nationwide network of on-line support and advocacy groups.

Read the New Haven Register’s coverage.

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