19 posts in the category “Genetics”

A Brief History of AKU, the First Genetic Disease Discovered

Posted January 17th, 2013 by

Last week, we announced that we are creating the first open, global registry for alkaptonuria (AKU), in collaboration with the AKU Society.  You may not have heard of this extremely rare disease – which causes a severe, early-onset form of osteoarthritis – but it plays an important role in the history of genetic diseases.  In fact, AKU, which is estimated to affect 1 in 250,000 to 500,000 people, was the very first genetic disease identified in the scientific record.  Strangely, though, the scientific community failed to recognize this landmark discovery until much later.

The chemical structure of homogentistic acid (HGA), the substance that accumulates in the bodies of AKU patients at more than 2,000 times the normal rate due to a genetic mutation. Image courtesy of AKU Society.

In 1902, Sir Archibald Garrod, a British physician interested in childhood diseases, published a paper describing the hereditary nature of AKU in The Lancet.  After observing the frequent occurrence of AKU in siblings, Garrod came to believe that the condition was congenital and possibly hereditary.  Using chemical studies, he set out to disprove the existing theory that AKU was infectious – and succeeded. By 1908-1909, he’d expanded his radical notion of lifelong hereditary disease to other rare disorders: albinism, cystinuria and pentosuria.   In lectures and publications at the time, he became the first person to describe a human condition that followed Mendelian inheritance patterns, the first to propose the concept of recessive inheritance, and the first to mention the importance of consanguinity, or the genetic similarity of blood relatives who marry and reproduce.

As a result of these significant discoveries, Garrod (who passed away in 1936) is now considered the first human geneticist, as well as the father of “inborn errors of metabolism,” an expression he coined. Yet Garrod’s pioneering work was not appreciated during his lifetime.   Part of this may be due to the fact that the term “genetics” itself – as well as the principles behind it – had not yet been formulated when he was alive.  He was far ahead of his time.  According to a 2008 article published in the Journal of Inherited Metabolic Disorders, Garrod “can rightly be deemed one of the most profound intellectuals of the 20th century, whose bequests to science and medicine continue to increase in value.”

Despite over 100 years of study since Garrod’s 1902 publication, there is still no cure for AKU.  Through our new registry – which will bring together AKU patients from around the world, patients who may have never met another AKU patient like themselves – we hope to help both patients and researchers answer fundamental questions and accelerate research focused on this often painfully debilitating disease.   What we will discover, together?  Stay tuned.


Dronamraju K. Profiles in Genetics:  Archibald E. Garrod. Am J Hum Genet. 51:216-219, 1992.

Rosenberg LE.  Legacies of Garrod’s brilliance.  One hundred years—and counting. J Inherit Metab Dis. 2008 Oct; 31(5):574-9.


Recognizing the Rare Disease Community’s Champions of Hope

Posted October 9th, 2012 by

PatientsLikeMe Is Proud to Be Partnered with the Global Genes / RARE Disease Project

Did you know that 1 in 10 people worldwide have rare and genetic conditions?

PatientsLikeMe was a proud sponsor of the 1st Annual Tribute to Champions of Hope, organized by our partner the Global Genes / RARE Project. Held on September 27th in Newport Beach, CA, the gala recognized outstanding individuals who are working to affect change in the rare and genetic disease community.  All proceeds from the event – which attracted celebrities, medical researchers, pharmaceutical executives and even Olympic champions – go to benefit programs for patients and advocates.

PatientsLikeMe

In attendance from PatientsLikeMe were Ben Heywood, Arianne Graham and Deborah Volpe, who got to hear inspirational stories of the work these champions of hope are doing.  Highlights included the Biotechnology Award given to Charles Dunlop of Ambry Genetics and the Mauli Ola Foundation, which organizes therapeutic surf experiences for kids with cystic fibrosis, and a preview of the documentary Here. Us. Now., which chronicles a family with twin daughters diagnosed with Niemann-Pick Type C, a rare, incurable and fatal genetic disease.  Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Henri Termeer, the former President and CEO of Genyzme, aptly summed up all those who received awards as “people that have a sense that if they focus, they can make a difference.”  (Click here to read about all eight Champion of Hope honorees.)

Even the Dessert Made You Think About Your DNA and the Impact of Genetics at the 1st Annual Tribute to Champions of Hope Gala

After uplifting musical performances and talks by celebrity presenters Jason George (“Grey’s Anatomy”) and Nestor Serrano (Act of Valor), the night ended with a heart-stopping, impromptu rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” performed by several rising singer-songwriters, including Chris Mann and Katrina Parker from the “The Voice,”  Elliott Yamin from the fifth season of “American Idol” and Gracie Van Brunt, a young girl battling a rare genetic disease called Shwachman-Diamond Syndrome who performed her own original song earlier in the evening.

Chris Mann, Gracie Van Brunt, Katrina Parker and Elliot Yamin (Left to Right) Performing at the Tribute to Champions of Hope

The gala was followed the next day by the 2012 Patient Advocacy Summit, a forum where patient advocates could discuss issues that directly affect them, from resources to policy. PatientsLikeMe Co-Founder and President Ben Heywood was featured on the Innovative Technologies and Platforms panel, sharing the stage with Dr. David Eckstein of the NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. Discussing the topic of “Accessing the Science,” they each gave an overview of how patient registries and clinical trials are promoting change and advancing medical research.

As a prime example, PatientsLikeMe joined forces with the Global Genes / RARE Project last year to create the RARE Open Registry Project, a resource for patients and families fighting rare and genetic diseases.  What makes it different from other registries is every time you enter data into the system, you receive information back showing how your data compares to others fighting similar diseases or taking similar therapies.  If your family is impacted by a rare or genetic disease, we invite you to join the registry today