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Bard College to Participate in Large-Scale Study, Aimed at Reducing Ticks and Lyme Disease, Funded by $5 Million Grant from Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation

Groundbreaking Five-Year Project with Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies Will Be First to Explore Lyme Disease Management for Entire Communities

Mark Primoff
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.–– The Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation has awarded a $5 million dollar leadership grant to the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies to support a scientific study, being done in partnership with Bard College, that seeks to reduce Lyme disease in neighborhoods. Research will be carried out in collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, New York State Department of Health, and Dutchess County Department of Behavioral and Community Health. If successful, the project will revolutionize Lyme disease prevention.
“So many people suffer from Lyme disease, but there is not enough being done to fund research to find a cure and reduce risk in our communities,” said Alex Cohen, president of the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation. “I have experienced the debilitating side effects of Lyme firsthand, and we are proud to support organizations like the Cary Institute that are investing in research on prevention strategies that will stop this awful disease from infecting more people.”
Bard College biologist Felicia Keesing and Cary Institute disease ecologist Richard Ostfeld will direct the scientifically rigorous five-year study. It will take place in Dutchess County, New York, which is home to one of the nation’s highest Lyme disease infection rates. Residents of 24 neighborhoods will be recruited from Lyme disease hotspots identified by the researchers and their partners at the Dutchess County Department of Health. Each neighborhood will consist of six to 10 square blocks and roughly 100 properties. Interventions will target feeding and questing ticks using two commercially available products.
“We’ve learned a great deal about the broader ecological forces driving expanding tick populations and the spread of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. With this study, we’ll explore what can be done in neighborhoods and backyards to reduce tick survival and lower people’s exposure,” said Felicia Keesing, David and Rosalie Rose Distinguished Professor of Science, Mathematics, and Computing at Bard. “My friends and neighbors often ask me what they can do to protect themselves and their family members from Lyme disease. With this project and the generous support of the Cohen Foundation, I hope to be able to finally offer a real answer to that question.”
“Dutchess County residents have been hard hit by tick-borne illness,” said state Senator Sue Serino, who leads the New York State Senate Taskforce on Lyme and Tick-borne Diseases. “We are incredibly fortunate to have a premier center for Lyme disease research in our backyard. This project will bring needed attention to a complex and growing public health crisis, and it holds the promise of revealing prevention strategies that can be deployed wherever tick-borne illness is a threat. I cannot overstate the importance of this initiative and thank the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation for their support, and the Cary Institute and Bard College for their scientific leadership.”
More than 300,000 people are diagnosed with Lyme disease annually in the United States. Since the tick-borne illness was discovered in the 1970s, it has steadily increased in range and intensity. Lyme disease diagnosis and treatment remain complicated, and there is currently no vaccine available. In the Northeast, the blacklegged ticks that carry Lyme can also transmit babesiosis, anaplasmosis, and Borrelia miyamotoi. Co-infections are not uncommon. Protecting public health hinges on minimizing encounters with infected ticks.
While there are pesticides that kill ticks, analyses by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that their piecemeal application in yards does not lower Lyme disease risk. Evidence suggests that the best strategy lies in an intervention that targets ticks, and the mice that spread Lyme disease, at the neighborhood level. This will be the first study using this approach. Interventions being deployed will be both economically feasible and environmentally sensitive. 
Congressman Chris Gibson, who represents New York State’s 19th District, authored the Tick-borne Disease Research Transparency and Accountability Act, the first standalone bill addressing Lyme disease to pass the House of Representatives. “The scale of this study is significant. Lessons learned will help inform tick-borne disease management in Hudson Valley communities and beyond,” he said. “As the incidence of Lyme disease continues to rise, and new tick-borne diseases emerge, we are in need of scalable, science-driven solutions.”
The gift from the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation accounts for more than half of the total $8.8 million that Bard and the Cary Institute are seeking for The Tick Project.
“For more than 25 years, Richard Ostfeld and Felicia Keesing have been unraveling the ecological conditions that influence Lyme disease risk,” said Joshua Ginsberg, president of the Cary Institute. “This generous gift from the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation will allow us to leverage their research into preventative action. Now, we are calling on donors to help us reach our fundraising goal and join us in the fight against tick-borne diseases.”
For more information about The Tick Project, visit:
About Bard College
Founded in 1860, Bard College is a four-year residential college of the liberal arts and sciences located 90 miles north of New York City on the east bank of the Hudson River. It offers bachelor of arts, bachelor of science, and bachelor of music degrees, with concentrations in more than 40 academic programs; graduate degrees in 11 programs; and numerous dual-degree programs nationally and internationally. Building on a 155-year history as a competitive and innovative undergraduate institution, Bard College’s mission has expanded across the country, and around the world to meet broader student needs. The undergraduate program at our main campus in the Hudson River Valley of upstate New York retains a reputation for scholarly excellence and civic engagement. Bard is committed to enriching culture, public life, and democratic discourse by training tomorrow’s thought leaders. In 2016, Bard acquired the Montgomery Place estate, bringing the size of the campus to nearly 1,000 acres. For more information, visit
About The Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies
The Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies is an independent, nonprofit environmental research organization located on 2,000 acres in New York's Hudson Valley. A world-premier center for ecosystem science, areas of expertise include disease ecology, forest and freshwater health, climate change, urban ecology, and invasive species. Since 1983, our scientists have produced the unbiased research needed to inform effective management and policy decisions. Our science program is complemented by education and outreach initiatives.
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—creating awareness, offering guidance, and leading by example to show the world what giving can do. The Foundation’s Lyme Initiative is investing to cure Lyme disease, which infects over 300,000 Americans each year and leaves 10 to 20 percent 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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This event was last updated on 04-12-2016