- Associated Press - Monday, July 11, 2016

NEW LONDON, Conn. (AP) - Zachary Brother has been treated twice for Lyme disease, so the 27-year-old Waterford native knows from first-hand experience what a challenging illness it can be.

“The current treatments are inadequate,” said Brother, a graduate of Waterford High School who is now a research fellow at the University of Massachusetts Plant Cell Culture Library.

Last month, Brother was part of a team from the plant cell library, which has the world’s largest collection of plant stem cells, that participated in a unique contest designed to spark innovation in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of the tick-borne illness that causes about 329,000 new infections in the U.S. annually.

Called the Lyme Innovation Hackathon - a name derived from computer programming contests - it brought together 100 participants who worked on 16 teams over three days at the Microsoft NERD Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to develop and propose solutions to a team of judges for 10 priorities for Lyme disease.

Brother was part of a UMass team that presented a proposal to use the plant cell library to find plant species that possess traits that can inhibit the Lyme disease bacteria.

“We’re trying to trick plants into thinking there’s an infection, and get them to produce the chemicals” that would combat Lyme disease, Brother said. “We’d take the raw extracts of the plants and look for compounds that have potential for treatments.” Already, he said, his team has identified 250 plant species that have anti-bacterial properties that could yield potential treatments.

The UMass team and four others were selected as winners of the contest, each receiving $5,000 and the opportunity to compete for additional grants, according to a news release from the Bay Area Lyme Foundation, one of the sponsors of the event.

Collaborating groups included the Spaulding Rehabilitation Network’s Dean Center for Tick Borne Illness, the Harvard Medical School Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, MIT Hacking Medicine, the University of California, Berkley, and the Veterans Affairs Center for Innovation.

“Holding a Lyme disease hackathon was critical in order to accelerate innovation and research and to develop a longer and more diverse pipeline of scientists and entrepreneurs dedicated to expediting solutions in the field of Lyme disease,” said Dr. Nevena Zubcevik, Lyme innovation lead and clinical co-director of the Spaulding center, and instructor at the Harvard Medical School Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

Brother said each team was given three minutes to make a presentation to the judges.

“It was a stiff competition,” he said.

Over the summer, the winning teams will develop their research projects and make another presentation to the judges in September. Three teams will be chosen for awards.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/29BhSyh

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Information from: The Day, http://www.theday.com

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