Top Prize Won in 2015 BeHEARD Rare Disease Science Challenge

For more background and up to date information on the Treeman project, visit our new research page dedicated to this topic.
The Kast Labs very own Martin KastJoseph Skeate, and Andrew Woodham were awarded an “Ultimate” prize in the 2015 BeHEARD Rare Disease Science Challenge from The Rare Genomics Institute. The prize, provided by Cypher Genomics (valued between $50,000-$100,000), will help us finally push forward research into which genetic variation results in uncontrolled infection and proliferation of the Human Papillomavirus Type 2 within the Indonesian Tree Men.

Martin and Dede

This story began in 2009 when Dr Kast was given the opportunity to meet three individuals with Treeman illness, a horrible yet amazing disease in which infection by human papillomavirus type 2 results in unchecked and uncontrollable growth of warts, eventually handicapping the individuals with bark-like outgrowths from their epithelium.

Treeman DedeBeing an immunologist with over 25 years of experience in the HPV field, Martin has had the hypothesis that these Treemen have some sort of genetic variation that prevents their immune systems from mounting a proper attack against HPV infections. Since this is whats classified as an orphan disease with only a few reported cases worldwide, funding for a genomic study has been scarce.

“One day while sitting in Martins office he asked us if there was a way that we could utilize the samples we had on hand to potentially find the genetic cause of this problem, so after bouncing several idea’s off the wall and nailing down some specific aims we decided to give the 2015 BeHEARD competition a shot.” – Andrew and Joseph

Now armed with the ability to sequence and compare the genomes of the three Treemen to other healthy Indonesians from the same region, The Kast Lab may finally be on the way to solving this mystery and potentially understanding more about how HPV manipulates or evades immune surveillance to find a cure for them.


Rare Genomics Institute (RGI) is an international non-profit that provides access to cutting edge research technologies, physicians, and scientists across the globe. They hope to accelerate personalized rare disease studies and create new options for millions of patients suffering from hard-to-diagnose and treat ailments. By partnering with top biotechnology companies, BeHEARD science challenge is providing rare disease groups access to the latest life sciences innovations and technologies.