Stephen Rich, Biologist from University of Massachusetts

Stephen Rich

Tick Boot Camp Podcast
Doctor Stephen was featured on the Tick Boot Camp Podcast:


Dr. Stephen Rich, an esteemed microbiologist, and professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass), also serves as the Executive Director of the New England Center of Excellence in Vector-Borne Diseases (NEWVEC) based at UMass Amherst. His cutting-edge research primarily revolves around tick-borne diseases, with a particular emphasis on understanding the transmission and prevention of Lyme disease.

Dr. Rich earned his PhD in Biology from the University of California, Irvine, and holds a Master of Science degree from the University of Vermont (UVM). Additionally, he pursued further Master’s level studies at Harvard University, following his time at UVM. His postdoctoral research was conducted at the prestigious University of Rochester.

Joining UMass in 2005, Dr. Rich has made significant contributions to the institution. Prior to his tenure at UMass, he was a valued faculty member at Tufts University from 1999 to 2005.

Groundbreaking Lyme Research
Dr. Rich recently discovered that white-tailed deer blood kills the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. “Until the publication of our paper, no one had done the experiment to show that deer blood – specifically the serum component of white-tailed deer blood – kills Lyme,” said Dr. Rich. Patrick Pearson, one of Dr. Rich’s doctoral students, said “the Lyme bacterium has proteins on its surface that protect it from the human innate immune system. Deer blood is somehow different such that Lyme bacteria are apparently unable to protect themselves from the innate immune system of white-tailed deer.” The next research step is to determine the precise mechanisms in deer blood that kill the bacteria. “We’d like to determine if it’s something we can induce in humans,” Dr. Rich said.

A Leader in Disease Research
Dr. Stephen Rich is a renowned researcher who has made significant contributions to the field of zoonotic (infections that are spread between people and animals) diseases. His research focuses on understanding the adaptive sequences of microbes that cause zoonotic diseases and developing means of intervening to prevent their spread. Dr. Rich’s work seeks to better understand how microbes have adapted to make their livelihood at the expense of their hosts, whether they are animals or humans. His research is focused primarily on vector-borne zoonoses, which are diseases (like Lyme disease) whose transmission is facilitated by a blood-feeding arthropod (like a tick).

Intervening in Lyme Disease
Dr. Rich’s lab has taken a more applied approach in recent years, investigating means of intervening in Lyme disease. In the realm of tick-borne diseases, they have engaged in a first-of-its-kind passive surveillance for established and emerging pathogens in the range of human-biting ticks. From that work, they are finding the spread of emergent pathogens, which drives their efforts to learn the causes of that spread.

Multidisciplinary Approach
Dr. Rich’s lab team takes a multidisciplinary approach to their research, and their work often extends beyond the lab to include field experimentation and collection. He has coined the term “Medical Zoology” to describe their approach, which combines different fields to better understand zoonotic diseases.