GLA CEO Scott Santarella discusses GLA’s recent Lyme disease research grant funding milestone and how GLA’s research is impacting patients, with Tony Savino on 1490AM WGCH Radio. Below is an excerpt.
Tony Savino, WGCH: All right Scott, tell us the news about this research grant funding.
Scott Santarella, GLA: So we’re really excited, we hit a milestone just recently, the last month or so, we’ve surpassed the $10 million mark in research grant funding in the history of the organization and as many of our supporters know, it’s been 10 plus years of a lot of hard work and a lot of generous donations by donors to allow us to achieve this milestone and have the impact that we’re having in trying to help patients get cured from this disease.
Tony: All right, so the first thought everybody would have is, “Okay, after $10 million dollars raised, are we making progress here?”
Scott: I think actually we’re making a lot of progress and I think one of the things that I’ve noticed over the last probably two and a half to three years is, technology in medicine is finally caught up with the disease. For such a simple organism, it’s a very complex disease and it’s very hard to understand and to identify within the human body but we’re close now to having, I think, some improved diagnostic tools. We’re very close to having some alternative and some new treatment options and a lot of it was the groundwork that’s been set over the last couple of years in the research that we have funded. It takes a long time for researchers to do their work and to come through with their hypotheses and we’re hoping that we can expedite that with more funding and with this new technology and medicine that’s out there.
Tony: On that note Scott, what’s the overall mission or goal of GLA? What would you like to, in the end, accomplish as far as this disease is concerned?
Scott: Well quite simply, we’d like to put ourselves out of business and not have to do this anymore, but the ultimate goal is to eradicate Lyme disease for good and find a cure for the disease. Cures are hard to find as we know, so in the interim, what we’re trying to do is bring to light the disease on an awareness front, across the country and across the world, and then raise money and fund research so that we can help people, especially those that are suffering from the chronic or the persister form of this disease, that oftentimes don’t respond to those antibiotics at the acute phase and really need our help to try to get better and not have this long-lasting Lyme disease problem that about 25 to 30% of the people who get bit by a tick have.
Tony: It sounds like a lot of the research that you’ve had, are they in different areas of Lyme disease? The release here mentions two million dollars to 15 researchers, are they all in different areas of this disease?
Scott: It’s a great question and they are. We’re looking at researchers that are working on basic science and we’ve funded some fellows level researchers that are doing real basic science work. We’re looking at researchers that are working on treatment options and antibiotics and treatment options beyond antibiotics, new pharmacological drugs as well as alternative medicines. We’re looking at researchers who have an interest in trying to understand how the disease affects the immune system and whether or not immunotherapy type of research and treatment options could be available to help treat this disease, and it’s a variety of researchers all over the country. So we have a pretty diverse portfolio of research grants that we’re really excited about and we feel like we’re funding the best of the best and that’s important because dollars are limited and we want to make sure we’re good stewards of those donor dollars that we receive.
Tony: There’s growing evidence that ticks carry not just Lyme disease but … I don’t know if it’s babesiosis or some of these other diseases. Is the GLA involved with the research into this or is it just Lyme?
Scott: Absolutely, no. Part of the challenge with this disease is why Lyme disease is at the forefront and it’s what everybody recognizes and it’s sort of what’s in the vernacular of conversation and communication when it comes to tick-borne illnesses but there are a variety of co-infections. You mentioned Babesiosis, Ehrlichia and a few others that are out there, it’s not always just Lyme disease that a patient’s dealing with, it’s some of these co-infections as well and part of that challenge is those co-infections are equally as stealth and equally as hard to identify and to treat and so we’re trying to tackle what we know to be the most common form of the tick-borne illness, which is Lyme disease, but certainly the researchers that we’re funding, most of them are all working in the co-infection world and as they go through their research, they try and identify options for those other tick-borne illnesses.
Tony: Are we getting closer to at least a diagnostic for this?
Scott: I actually think that we are. We’re funding a private organization that’s working on a diagnostic tool that’s more protein-based versus antibody-based. The antibody-based tests requires the immune system to create an antibody against it, to be able to tell whether or not you have Lyme disease and those can present a lot of false negatives at times. But we’re looking at a new test that’s more protein based and we’re looking at some tests that are more biomarker-based, the type of test that you find sort of in cancer, where you identify abnormalities or biomarkers within the immune system or within the body, based on the infection from a tick bite. If we can identify that easier, we can perhaps have a better diagnostic tool which would provide a much more clear indication of someone having the disease.
Quite frankly, it’s the pathway toward getting more support both from the government, if we can identify a better diagnostic tool, as well as health insurance companies. If they know that someone has the disease, they’re more apt to be willing to fund and support the treatment toward that disease.
Tony: Are you fighting the clock here? It seems as if every year they say there are more ticks and that would mean more tick-borne illnesses.
Scott: Yes, that’s a really good point. I think we are fighting the clock. I don’t know, I’m not an expert in climate change, but I think it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that things are changing in the environment. Certainly, ticks seem to be living longer throughout the course of a season and if we don’t get the weather to kill them off in the winter and oftentimes we may get some of it, we don’t get enough of it. And I also think that more people are aware of the disease, so while I think ticks are becoming more and more prevalent and people are being probably bitten more, I think they’re also more aware of themselves and aware of tick-borne illnesses and they’re coming forward more. So I think it’s a combination of certainly increased incidence in the disease, but also increased awareness bringing to the forefront more people having the disease than we were aware of before because they’re more aware of it themselves.
Tony: Final question for me Scott, you’re accepting grant proposals for the next round?
Scott: We are. Our grant portal opens up on August 1st, and then we make our decisions usually by the middle to end of October and if you just go to www.gla.org and hit on our research page, you’ll find the portal and anybody out there that’s doing some really good research in Lyme disease or tick-borne illnesses, we’d love to have you submit a proposal and if we have the funding, we certainly would consider it for support.
Listen to the entire interview: