Talking brain donation with Dr. Deborah Mash

Posted September 1st, 2015 by

Dr. Deborah Mash is a professor of neurology and molecular/cellular pharmacology at the University of Miami School of Medicine. She’s also the director of the university’s Brain Endowment Bank, and she recently spoke with PatientsLikeMe about her research and exactly what goes into donating your brain to science. As she says, “we still know very little about that which makes us uniquely human” – read her Q&A interview below.

What led you to study diseases of the brain? 

The brain is the next biologic frontier. We have learned more about the human brain in the past twenty years than throughout all of human history. And, we still know very little about that which makes us uniquely human – our brain. I was always very interested in the anatomy and the chemistry of the brain and in disease-related Neuroscience. I consider it a privilege to study the human brain in health and disease.

How would you explain the process of brain donation to PatientsLikeMe members who might be new or uncomfortable with the idea of donating this organ to science?

Brain donation is no different than donating other organs after death. Organ and tissue donations can give life or sight to another person. Transplanted tissues are used in surgeries to repair damaged bones and joints. And these donated tissues are also important for research studies to advance best practices that are used by doctors. The gift of a brain donation supports research studies that will bring about new treatments, better diagnosis and ultimately cures for disorders of the human brain like Alzheimer’s disease, Autism, ALS, schizophrenia and depression, drug and alcohol addiction, bipolar disorder, and multiple sclerosis to name a few.

A brain donation does not interfere or delay a family’s plans for the funeral, burial or cremation. There is no cost to the family to make this final gift.

What brain bank research would you most like to share with the PatientsLikeMe community? Our ALS, MS, Parkinson’s and mental health members might be interested to hear about brain bank research for their conditions.

Studies of the human brain have led to seminal discoveries including the loss of dopamine neurons in Parkinson’s disease and the association of beta amyloid with Alzheimer’s disease. Without examining the human brain after death, these discoveries could not have happened. Medications for Parkinson’s disease were advanced because scientists identified the loss of dopamine that causes many of the symptoms.

We have new technology that provides an unprecedented opportunity to rapidly examine large-scale gene expression of human brain for the first time. This powerful approach can facilitate understanding the molecular pathogenesis of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a disease that is usually fatal in five years. Motor neurons in ALS undergo degeneration, causing secondary muscle atrophy and weakness. Studies of ALS in human brain are beginning to identify multiple processes involved in the pathogenesis of ALS.

We have yet to fully understand the progression of multiple sclerosis (MS).

This disease is different for everyone who has it. The symptoms it causes and when they flare up is different not only between people but also throughout one person’s life. This makes the diagnosis difficult and complicates treatment. The science behind MS is slowed because there are too few brains donated for research. We get many more requests for well-characterized MS cases and too few brain specimens are available to support the research. This lack of donated brains from MS patients is a barrier for MS research.

Examining the brain after death is important to understand how well experimental treatments are working in clinical trials to see if the drug did what it was supposed to do. An autopsy follow-up on 13 patients from a recent Alzheimer’s drug trial showed that although the drug had cleared the beta amyloid protein, it hadn’t changed the course of the disease — an incredibly important observation needed to advance the direction of Alzheimer’s disease research. The same is true for anyone who participates in clinical trials for any brain disorder.

When you ask people (or their family members) to consider donating their brain to UMBEB or another brain bank, what do you want them to know?

A brain donation is a final gift that contributes to the health and well being of the next generation – your children and grandchildren. It is a very special endowment that lives on by advancing research that can lead to the next scientific breakthrough.

People who want to be organ donors typically sign a card letting others know their wishes, but brain donations require an additional pledge card. This is not always well promoted. How can PatientsLikeMe members who are interested in brain donation obtain the special brain donation pledge cards?

It is important to make your wish known by registering in advance. We make it an easy process and provide donor registration cards for your wallet. You can share this information with your family and friends. You can request information or become a registered donor by visiting us online at http://brainbank.med.miami.edu or call 1-800-UM-Brain.

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Throwback Thursday: Diabetes and stress

Posted August 27th, 2015 by

Just about two years ago, nearly 600 members of the PatientsLikeMe community completed a survey called the Diabetes Distress Scale (DDS), a 17-item questionnaire which measures the amount and types of problems diabetes can cause in a person’s life. And today, we’re throwing it back to the summary of the results. Here’s what Dr. William Polonsky, the Founder and President of the Behavioral Diabetes Institute, and the co-creator of the DDS, had to say at the time about diabetes and stress:

“I believe it’s important to understand the physical, behavioral and emotional sides of illness. Diabetes, in particular, is so highly dependent on what people do every day.  It is, therefore, almost all about behavior− how do you talk yourself into taking on new tasks and making changes in your lifestyle, some of them which may seem not so pleasant or worthwhile, that you’d rather not do.”

You might recognize Dr. Polonsky from his subsequent blog podcast and additional research with the WHYSTOP scale. You can view the results of the DDS as a PDF, but check out some of the graphs below.

 

Have you had an A1C test done in the past year?

If you’re living with type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes, find others just like you in the growing communities on PatientsLikeMe. Almost 20,000 people with type 1 or type 2 are sharing their experiences to help others, for good.

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“I can see that there actually is help here.” – JustinSingleton shares his experiences with PTS

Posted August 21st, 2015 by

JustinSingleton is an Army veteran who recently joined PatientsLikeMe back in June, and he’s been exploring the veteran’s community ever since. This month, he wrote about his experiences in an interview, and below, you can read what he had to say about getting diagnosed with PTS, managing his triggers and the importance of connecting and sharing with fellow service members. 

Can you give us a little background about your experience in the military?

In 1998, I joined the Ohio Army National Guard as an Indirect Fire Infantryman – the guy that shoots the mortars out of a big tube. For six years I trained on a mortar gun, but after being called back into the Army (I left in 2004), I was assigned to an Infantry Reconnaissance platoon, and I had no idea what I was doing. Before heading to Iraq, we trained together as a platoon for six months – learning not only the trade, but to trust each other with our lives.

It wasn’t until March 2006 that we arrived in Iraq, and I was assigned to the Anbar Province, which at the time was rated as the worst province of the nation. I was deployed in the time leading up to the need for “the surge.” As we drove the highways of the Anbar, we were shot at, mortared, and bombed. Intelligence even found “wanted” posters of one of our vehicles (we named it Chuck Norris).

When were you diagnosed with PTS?

I wasn’t diagnosed with PTS until many years after the war (I tried to “fix” myself), but the traumatic events are actually multiple, including receiving indirect fire on what was supposed to be my last mission – just a week or so after two good friends were evacuated after being maimed for life.

What have you done to manage your symptoms of PTS?

At the beginning, I refused medicines – I thought I was strong enough to beat it on my own. I worked with a VA counselor before moving for a semester. While there, I worked with a university student/counselor, but nothing was really helping. Finally, I went to my Primary Care Physician and told her that I needed more. The VA psychiatrist tested some medicines, but one needed to be changed (this is normal). Finally, the combination of medicine and individual therapy created within me a sense of “I might make it.”

You joined PatientsLikeMe in June 2015.  As a newer member, what do you think of the veteran’s and PTS communities?

I joined this community because although I feel better than before, I still need the help of others. I can see that there actually is help here.

You’ve mentioned in the forum that your triggers seem to be non-combat related – can you describe your triggers?

In one of the forums I mentioned my triggers. These, to me, are odd. Bridges, garbage on the side of the road, and even a midnight stroll have triggered panic attacks or anxiety. Often, simply being in a grocery store too long causes anxiety to the point that I take a quarter of Ativan, squeeze my fists or the cart, and head to the door or checkout (whether finished or not). While this has caused an impairment in life, it has never been “the end” of life. These are objects on my road to a healthy living – objectives to be conquered.

Although there is a prevalent idea in the Armed Forces that a man/woman should never ask for help or ever see a physician, I have found that to be a rather juvenile view on life. The greatest thing a veteran facing PTS or anxiety can do is not try to face it alone. We are a community, a brotherhood, and only together with a good doctor can we ever hope to survive.

What advice do you have for other military members who may be experiencing PTS and related conditions?

Twenty-three of our brothers and sisters quit every day. I refuse to be a part of that statistic.

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Q & A with Mary Ann Singersen, Co-Founder/President of the A.L.S. Family Charitable Foundation

Posted August 14th, 2015 by

In 1998, Stephen Heywood, the brother of our co-founders Ben and Jamie, and friend of Jeff Cole, was diagnosed with ALS. They immediately went to work trying to find new ways to slow Stephen’s progression, and after 6 years of trial and error, they built PatientsLikeMe in 2004.

Mary Ann Singersen also has family experience with the neurological condition. Her father, Edward, was diagnosed two years before Stephen, and she co-founded the A.L.S. Family Charitable Foundation, now a partner of ours here at PatientsLikeMe. Mary Ann recently sat down for a blog interview and spoke about her inspiration to start the organization, her philosophy about ALS and what advice she would have for anyone living, or caring for someone, with ALS.

Can you share with our followers how your own family’s experience with ALS inspired you to start the A.L.S. Family Charitable Foundation? 

My father, Edward Sciaba Sr., was diagnosed with ALS in 1995. Going through this ordeal really opened my eyes to the plight of not only the patients but their families as well. In 1998 he lost his battle with ALS.

Our Co-Founder Donna Jordan also lost her brother Cliff Jordan Jr. to ALS the same year. (Our “Cliff Walk” is named for him).

We met through volunteering in the ALS community and thought that since we already had the Walk in Cliff’s name, we would like to be sure that the funds raised were used to help patients with their financial and emotional needs. We also wanted to further research efforts so we donate a portion to ALSTDI and UMASS Memorial Medical.

Donna and I went on to co-found the A.L.S. Family Charitable Foundation and we pride ourselves on our ability to put patients and their needs first. We offer many in-house programs that help with family vacations, day trips, respite, utility bills, back to school and holiday shopping, college scholarships for children of patients, etc. At this time, our programs are restricted in that they are available to New England area residents only.

We know you have your biggest event of the year – The 19th Annual “Cliff Walk” For A.L.S. – coming up on September 13. Can you share some more information about the event and its history? How can people get involved?

My co-founder and friend Donna Jordan’s brother Cliff was diagnosed with ALS at 34 years of age and he wanted to do something to support research efforts, so he held a walk on the Cape Cod Canal and 60 people came and raised $4,000.

Every year since then, the Walk has grown and grown. Last year, we welcomed 1,500 participants and raised over $220,000.

The “Cliff Walk®” is a seven mile walk along the Cape Cod Canal followed by live musical entertainment, fun activities for the whole family and lots of great food! If folks wish to come to the Walk we ask them to download a pledge sheet or make an online fundraising page.

On your website you say, “Until there is a cure…there is the A.L.S. Family Charitable Foundation.” Where do you and the organization see research focused in the future? What’s the next step? 

I can only say that I hope with all the funds raised by ALS organizations around the world and with the success of the Ice Bucket Challenge, there just has to be a cure on the way. In the meantime, we are here to help in any way we can.

We’re thrilled to be a partner of the A.L.S. Family Charitable Foundation. How do you think those living with ALS can benefit from PatientsLikeMe? How can PatientsLikeMe ALS members benefit from the A.L.S. Family Charitable Foundation? 

PatientsLikeMe is a great resource for anyone living with any condition – not just ALS. It’s also great for caregivers. ALS patients more than any other condition are online researching their symptoms, what helps, what doesn’t. They and their collaboration with each other may hold the key to better treatment options and someday maybe a cure.

Our Foundation prides itself on putting patients and their needs first. Our services are open to New England area residents and include granting funds to help with equipment, bills, respite services, college scholarships to children of patients, vacations, day trips, back to school and holiday expenses and any other needs we are able to meet. So please if you or a loved one have ALS and live in New England contact us for assistance. Call Debbie Bell our Patient Services Coordinator at 781-217-5480, email her at debbellals@aol.com or call our office at 508-759-9696 or email alsfamily@aol.com.

We also wish to find a cure for our loved ones living with ALS, so we fund research efforts at ALS TDI and UMASS Memorial Medical Center.

From your own personal experiences, what advice would you give to someone living with ALS, and to his or her family members and friends? 

Take help anywhere you can get it. Don’t ever feel like you shouldn’t ask because someone who needs it more will be denied, or because you have received help from another organization. Funds we and other organizations raise are for you and people like you.

If you or a loved one has ALS and live in the New England area, visit the A.L.S. Family Charitable Foundation website for more information and to request assistance.”

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Food for thought: August (diet) edition

Posted August 12th, 2015 by

Many mothers have told their children “you are what you eat,” but some PatientsLikeMe members have taken that idea one step further and are using their diets to try and manage the symptoms of their conditions. People have been sharing about everything from gluten-free to vegan diets – check out what some people said in the conversations below:

“I truly believe, after 50+ years of fibromyalgia symptoms ranging from pain and depression to migraines, irritable bowel, and low thyroid, that the biggest help of all is to watch my diet, get in lots of fruits and vegetables, and limit sugar and alcohol. I supplement my fruits and veg intake with a whole food based supplement. This has allowed me to reduce medication to thyroid supplementation and a very occasional sumatriptan.”
-Fibromyalgia member on her “detox” diet

“My diet is greens, beans, nuts and seeds. Favorites are kale, spinach, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, celery, cauliflower, broccoli, sweet potatoes, black, pinto and kidney beans, lentils, black-eyed peas, cashews, almonds, peanuts and pistachios, flax and pumpkin seeds. I also have occasional sweet potatoes, apples, oranges and watermelon. Grains are consumed about once a week and are usually Farro or Quinoa.”
-Diabetes II member on his vegan diet

“With all my meds and other things I take for depression and the DBS, I can’t say that a gluten-free diet has been particularly whiz-bang helpful. However, I think it may have slowed my symptoms or made me feel better than I should.”

“I am also trying to stay as gluten-free and sugar-free as possible. It is a daunting exercise each day, but may be worth it long-term. I believe that diet plays a huge role in all disease states. All we can do each day, realistically, is take one day at a time and note any positive changes in our PD symptoms to gauge how we are benefitting.”
-Parkinson’s members on their gluten-free diets

If you missed our other Food for Thought posts, read the previous editions here.

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Caregivers and companions – PatientsLikeMe members talk about their service animals

Posted August 10th, 2015 by

Service animals are often a topic of conversation in the PatientsLikeMe community, and many members frequently share their experiences with their furry friends. For example, Ted wrote about his service dog Catti-Brie in his blog interview.

Here’s what other members are sharing about their animals:

“Just last night when I was having a rough dream [my dog] stood with his paws front paws on the bed and barked till I picked him up and he laid across me and snuggled me to sleep again.”

“I have a mobility service dog that helps with my balance. It’s like having a smart cane. When we go for walks she wears her mobility harness, but when we are home she only wears it when I’m having a bad day. She is also trained to do many other things like get items for me, and pick up things I dropped. She can also turn on/off the lights and open/close doors.”

“Mali is my mobility and medical alert service dog. She has saved my life twice so far… as well as told two of my friends when they had tumors. She went through a spell when she was younger when she thought she had to tell everyone who was ill where their boo boos were.”

Previously, members shared their experiences with service animals in a Canine Caretakers blog post, and others contributed to forum posts on the same topic. If you would like to share about your service animal, head to PatientsLikeMe. Don’t forget to share a cute picture of your pooch (or other animal)!

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Throwback Thursday: Dr. Steve Feldman speaks about psoriasis and medication adherence

Posted August 6th, 2015 by

In honor of Psoriasis Awareness Month, we’re throwing it back to January 2013, when we sat down with Steve Feldman, MD, PhD, and Professor of Dermatology, Pathology & Public Health Sciences at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. In his interview, he spoke about the challenges for psoriasis patients, as well as the treatment advances that may be ahead. We’ve reposted his entire interview below so you can learn about his research studies on patients’ adherence to topical treatments.

As the founder of DrScore.com, tell us how rating doctors online can improve medical care.

Doctors want to give their patients great medical care. Online ratings can help by giving doctors the feedback they need to know—from patients’ perspectives—such as what the doctor is doing well and what the doctor can do to enhance the quality of care in their practice. www.DrScore.com was designed to help facilitate that feedback while also giving patients a better picture—more transparency—of the quality of care physicians provide, something that wasn’t nearly so easy to do in the pre-Internet era.

What do you think about PatientsLikeMe’s data-sharing platform and openness philosophy?

PatientsLikeMe does a truly wonderful job taking advantage of the capabilities of the Internet to permit data sharing among patients so they can learn from one another. Another extraordinary accomplishment has been to develop ways to combine that data in order to better understand diseases and the benefits and risks of the treatments for those diseases. Openness is a terrific attribute in this Internet age. I am very optimistic about medicine and health care providers and think there’s nothing to hide (and if there were something to hide, it ought to be exposed)!

You’ve done extensive research around treatment adherence. What are the considerations for patients?

Well, as the former Surgeon General put it, medicines don’t work if patients don’t take them. Taking medicine isn’t easy, unless it is a habit. And when a patient starts to use a new medicine, taking it isn’t a habit. Patients forget their medicine, they may be fearful of their medicine, there are just all sorts of reasons why patients don’t always take their medications. I think coming up with a plan, a system, for remembering is helpful. (I keep my own pills in a seven-day dispenser on the dinner table, which works great for me except when my family goes out to eat).

If patients are fearful, they should have an honest discussion with the doctor about it. One thing is certain: patients should be honest with their doctors about how they use their medicines. It does neither the patient nor the doctor any good for the patient to tell the doctor one thing but do something else. If a doctor does prescribe a medicine that the patient thinks is too costly or too risky, the patient should let their doctor know. The doctor wants to know and may be able to change things.

We have a growing psoriasis community. What challenges do psoriasis patients face?

Psoriasis has a huge impact on patients’ lives. It affects how patients perceive themselves, how other people perceive the person who has psoriasis, and, in many cases, how someone with psoriasis thinks they are perceived by others. The lesions aren’t just unsightly; they can be itchy and painful. The condition is caused by an overactive immune system, which can also result in arthritis and increased risk of cardiovascular disease and depression. There are good treatments, but the treatments have their downsides: they may be costly, inconvenient, messy, and risky. One of the biggest challenges is getting educated about all the potential options. It isn’t easy.

In our forum, patients have been discussing whether diet can affect psoriasis. What’s your take?

Well, I don’t know of any particular dietary issues that have been definitively shown to affect psoriasis one way or the other (except perhaps that starvation temporarily improves the disease, probably by inhibiting the immune system). But if a particular patient finds some particular dietary issue that makes their psoriasis worse (or better), they should eat accordingly. Some patients tell me beer and/or wine makes their disease worse or that avoiding gluten has helped. The PatientsLikeMe platform may be helpful in compiling the experiences of many people to see if these are issues for individuals or could truly help patients in general.

Any thoughts on what’s ahead in terms of psoriasis management and treatment advances?

As our understanding of the immune system improves, scientists at drug companies will be developing newer and perhaps better ways of controlling immune diseases, including psoriasis. As our health care system changes to become more cost conscious, there may be greater reliance on low cost treatments, like generic creams and ointments for people with mild disease and more use of phototherapy for people with more severe involvement. And with better data collection—like with PatientsLikeMe—we may develop a better understanding of what works, what doesn’t work, and what risks and benefits our treatments have.

If you’re living with psoriasis, don’t forget to connect with the more than 5,000 members of the psoriasis community at PatientsLikeMe.

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ORE Researcher Series: Dr. Larry Alphs Talks PROs and Depression

Posted August 1st, 2015 by

Dr. Larry Alphs, the Therapeutic Area Leader in Psychiatry for Janssen Pharmaceuticals, shared about his research as part of PatientsLikeMe’s ORE Researcher Series. You’ve already listened to Dr. Tamara Kear and the McMaster University researchers – click below to watch Dr. Alphs speak about a new drug that could eventually treat suicidal thoughts.

 

 

What exactly is the ORE? PatientsLikeMe’s ORE platform gives patients the chance to not only check an answer box, but also share their feedback on each question in a researcher’s health measure. They can tell our research partners what makes sense, what doesn’t, and how relevant the overall tool is to their condition. It’s all about collaborating with patients as partners to create the most effective tools for measuring disease.

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Getting ready for psoriasis awareness

Posted July 31st, 2015 by

Image courtesy of the National Psoriasis Foundation

Tomorrow is the official start of Psoriasis Awareness Month. The National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF) wants people with psoriasis to know they are not alone: Over 7.5 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with the condition, and more than 4,800 people with psoriasis are sharing what it’s like on PatientsLikeMe.

What does psoriasis look like? It’s a skin condition caused by unknown factors, and most people have red, itchy, scaly patches, especially around their knees, elbows and scalp. Psoriasis IS NOT contagious, yet people living with this skin condition often experience stigma when others notice their symptoms.

The NPF has a calendar full of events to create awareness about treatments, and offer support for the psoriasis community. Visit their website to learn more about what’s going on in your city or town. You can join “Team NPF” to participate in a walk, run, or other fund-raising event near you.

During Psoriasis Awareness Month, check out PatientsLikeMe posts on psoriasis, including the results of our “Uncovering Psoriasis” surveys, patient interviews with MariaDavid and Erica, and learn what doctors Jerry Bagel and Steve Feldman have to say about psoriasis. And if you’re living with psoriasis, don’t forget to connect with the community at PatientsLikeMe.

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Hartfell shares about her PatientsLikeMeInMotion™ experience

Posted July 29th, 2015 by

PatientsLikeMe members hail from around the globe, and recently, 63 people gathered on the coast of Scotland for a walk to raise awareness of IPF and help people with IPF through Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland. The coolest part? The event was organized entirely online by PatientsLikeMe member Hartfell, and through the PatientsLikeMeInMotion™ program, everyone was excited to get out there and hike. Here’s what she had to say:

“My experience with being diagnosed was quite complacent, as I had never heard of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). But when I read about it, it was a big shock. I found PatientsLikeMe online and was so glad because there was so much information and I was able to communicate with people with the same illness. I decided to organize a sponsor walk 5 months after I had been diagnosed to raise awareness of IPF. I have been a keen hill walker (hiker) for 23 years, and I organized a coastal walk at Kippford, with 3 levels of walks to cater to all abilities. We had a fantastic day with weather views and company and we raised £1,453.68 ($2,268.44), which was brilliant. The money went to Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland, which included my donation from PatientsLikeMe. There were 63 walkers that took part that day, ranging in age from 7 years to 85 years old. I would like to thank PatientsLikeMe for pointing me in the right direction to organize this event and help raise awareness. The event went so well and was enjoyed by all!”

If you’re unfamiliar with how PatientsLikeMeInMotion™ works, check out our guidelines – we sponsor 3-star members (super health data donors) who form teams and fundraise with their local nonprofits. And these advocates receive a donation, free team t-shirts and more!

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Compassion for All: Overcoming the Stigma of Mental Illness

Posted July 27th, 2015 by

From our partners and friends at the Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare.

Our partners at Schwartz Center Compassionate Care recently published a paper about how people living with mental illness experience prejudice, and how their doctors can give them better care.

“Overcoming the Stigma of Mental Illness to Ensure Compassionate Care for Patients and Families.”

Read the full paper

-Lisa Halpern, director of recovery services at Vinfen

Over the years, we’ve heard from the PatientsLikeMe community that many living with mental illness experience stigma, so we thought you’d like to know what researchers have to say about how people with mental illness don’t always get the care they need:

“One of the ways people suffering from mental illness are discriminated against in healthcare settings is when patients’ symptoms are over-attributed to their mental illness. The result is that their other health problems can go undiagnosed and untreated.”

Our partnership:
Over the last 20 years, the Schwartz Center focused on providing compassionate care, while over the last 10 years, we’ve brought the patient voice and the patient story to the life sciences community. We’re excited about the alliance, which will help us better understand the patient’s perception of compassionate care. We can strengthen the relationship between patients and their healthcare providers, which leads to better health outcomes, lower costs and greater patient satisfaction.

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Q & A with Dr. David Casarett, author of “Stoned: A Doctor’s Case for Medical Marijuana”

Posted July 22nd, 2015 by

If you’ve been following the blog lately, you might already know Dr. David Casarett – he’s a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine and the author of “STONED: A Doctor’s Case For Medical Marijuana.” He recently worked with PatientsLikeMe on a survey that asked members how they felt about marijuana, and the results were just released last week. Below, read what David had to share about the inspiration behind his novel, his thoughts on online communities like PatientsLikeMe and the intertwined future of marijuana and medicine.

 

What inspired you to write “Stoned: A Doctor’s Case for Medical Marijuana?”

A patient – a retired English professor – who came to me for help in managing symptoms of advanced cancer. She asked me whether medical marijuana might help her. I started to give her my stock answer: that marijuana is an illegal drug, that it doesn’t have any proven medical benefits, etc. But she pushed me to be specific, in much the same way that she probably used to push her students. Eventually I admitted that I didn’t know, but that I’d find out. Stoned is the result.

Inside the book, you say “For Caleb. I hope he found the relief he was searching for.” Can you share a little about his story and why you dedicated the book to him?

I describe my meeting with Caleb in the first chapter. He was a young man with advanced colorectal cancer who drove his RV to Colorado to get access to medical marijuana. He got there, and marijuana was legal, but he couldn’t afford it. He had access to other legal drugs like morphine and ativan through his hospice, but he didn’t use them because they didn’t work for his pain, and made him feel sick. The only thing that worked for him–marijuana–was out of reach.

Sounds like you went through some interesting research experiences while you were writing the book. (Pot wine? Marijuana paste on your leg?) How did those experiences influence your perception of marijuana as medicine?

I was trying to understand what the best way is to get the “active ingredients” of marijuana into people. I saw lots of ads for various methods, and all sorts of products are available, but I wanted to know what works. It turns out that some methods, like marijuana tea or beer or wine, aren’t very effective. But others, like vaporizing, definitely are.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about marijuana in the medical community?

The biggest misconception about marijuana in the medical community is probably that it offers no medical benefits. At least, that’s what I thought when I started researching Stoned. Actually, there have been some good studies that have shown very real benefits for some symptoms. True, there isn’t as much evidence as I’d like. But there will be more. New research is coming on line every year, and we’re gradually figuring out whether and how marijuana works.

How do you see online communities like PatientsLikeMe contributing to the medical marijuana discussion?

I think the biggest potential contribution of PatientsLikeMe is a source of crowd-sourced science. Medical marijuana science is lagging far behind the way that people are using it. For instance, in researching Stoned, I spoke with dozens of people who were using marijuana to treat the symptoms of PTSD, but there haven’t been any randomized controlled trials of marijuana for that use. That doesn’t mean that marijuana doesn’t treat PTSD symptoms, just that we don’t know (yet) whether it does.

We need randomized controlled trials, but those trials will take time, and money. That’s where communities like PatientsLikeMe come in. We can learn from PatientsLikeMe members what they’re using medical marijuana for, and how. And we can learn whether they think it’s working. Those reports can help patients learn from each other, and they can help researchers figure out what to focus on.

What did you find most interesting about the PatientsLikeMe survey results?

I was surprised that 87% of people weren’t at all concerned about becoming addicted or dependent on marijuana. We know that although the risk of addiction is small (about 10%), it’s very real. That risk probably isn’t enough to convince most people to avoid medical marijuana, especially if it’s helping them. But we should all be aware of those risks, so we can be alert for signs of dependence, like impairment of function, or effects on work or relationships.

You mention that the future of medical marijuana is the most interesting, yet hardest to answer question. But that said, what do you think the future holds for medical marijuana?

Some of the most exciting advances in the science of medical marijuana, to me, are related to what marijuana tells us about the endocannabinoid system – that’s the system of hormones and neurotransmitters and receptors in all of us. We don’t know a lot about what that system does, but we do know that marijuana ‘works’ by tapping into that system. The cannabinoids in marijuana trick the body by mimicking naturally occurring endocannabinoids like anandamide.

So although it’s fascinating to think about what marijuana could do, and although clinical trials of marijuana are essential, the really neat science of the future may focus on that endocannabinoid system – what it does, how it works, and how we can use it to promote health.

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ORE Researcher Series: McMaster University

Posted July 20th, 2015 by

Last month, you met ORE researcher Tamara Kear, PhD., R.N., CNS, CNN, and you listened to her talk about her research on hypertension, one of the factors that can lead to a person developing kidney disease. Today, we’re introducing McMaster University Professor Gordon Guyatt and students Melody Ren and Reza Mirzaie. The question they are asking is “how are patients currently receiving bad news from a medical professional, and are the guidelines doctors have on delivering bad news actually correct?” Below, listen to the three researchers talk about their work and how the ORE platform and PatientsLikeMe made their research possible.

What exactly is the ORE? PatientsLikeMe’s ORE platform gives patients the chance to not only check an answer box, but also share their feedback on each question in a researcher’s health measure. They can tell our research partners what makes sense, what doesn’t, and how relevant the overall tool is to their condition. It’s all about collaborating with patients as partners to create the most effective tools for measuring disease.

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Spoons and forks – not just for summer picnics

Posted July 17th, 2015 by

There are a ton of activities to do during the “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.” And whether you’re living with a chronic condition or not, it’s good to learn how to manage your energy. Christine Miserandino, who lives with lupus, created her “Spoon Theory” as a way to think about how much energy we have available.

Here’s how it works:
Pretend that you have a handful of spoons that represent all the energy you have for the day. Depending on your health, you’ll need to use some of those spoons to get dressed, make a pot of coffee or take care of your pet. Once you’ve done the daily ‘essential’ activities, you’ll know how much energy you’ve got left for other things, like going for walk on a summer evening.

The great thing about the Spoon Theory is that it works for everyone – you choose how many spoons to start with each day and know how many you have left. It’s also an easy way to communicate with others how you’re feeling at any given time. Maybe you’re not feeling like that hike in the woods. It may be hard to say ‘no,’ but easier to say, “I only have one spoon left today, and I’m saving it for cooking dinner tonight.”

Flipping it around, Jackie, who lives with multiple sclerosis (MS), came up with her “Fork Theory” as a way to communicate her pain points to family and friends. Jackie explained the theory to others in her PatientsLikeMe community:

“Forks are the opposite of spoons, you want to get rid of them. But knowing how many forks you have at any given time can help those around you understand what’s going on. For some of us, these forks take the form of chronic pain or fatigue, but for others, they may be simply a lack of motivation for the occasional family dinner (just kidding, Aunt Helen :) ).”

Support that sustains
Whatever type of cutlery makes sense to you, a summer day may offer you more chances to eat well, enjoy some exercise a bit or spend time relaxing at the beach.

If you need someone to talk to about your health condition(s) and how you are using your spoons or forks today, there are more than 350,000 PatientsLikeMe members discussing more than 2,500 health conditions. Summer wherever, but summer together. Join PatientsLikeMe and discover a place to learn and connect.

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