10 posts tagged “ALS research”

Paul Wicks on the power of sharing data

Posted April 5th, 2017 by

Back in December, our VP of innovation, Paul Wicks, Ph.D., spoke at the annual International Symposium on ALS/MND in Dublin. The goal of the annual meeting is to share new understandings of ALS/MND as quickly as possible through collaboration between leading researchers around the world.

Now, we’re sharing a video of his presentation about what you and the ALS community has shared about living with ALS over the last 10 years.

Here’s what Paul had to say:

“We hope this presentation shows the power of patients sharing their data to help shed light on ALS. It’s a disease that can isolate people, rob them of their voice, and sap their strength to fight back, so we’re proud that we’ve been putting the data our members share to good use for over a decade now and we’re keen to share some highlights of what we’ve found.”

What do you think about Paul’s presentation? Share your thoughts in the forum.

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The record on research: A chat with Duke’s Dr. Rick Bedlack

Posted March 7th, 2017 by

“This is the fastest enrolling trial in ALS history.”

 

A brightly-colored blazer and the determination to make a difference for ALS patients are two of Dr. Rick Bedlack’s defining characteristics. Dr. Bedlack is a tenured associate professor of Medicine/Neurology at Duke University. He’s also the director of the Duke ALS Clinic that’s partnering with PatientsLikeMe in the current Lunasin study. We recently spoke with him about his background with ALS and the ins and outs of the study.

He saw his first patient with ALS in the late 1990s during his residency at Duke.  He says, “I remember being amazed by the person’s history and neurological exam findings, intrigued by the mysteries of why this was happening, and horrified when I heard my attending physician say ‘you have 2-3 years. There is nothing we can do. Go and get your affairs in order.’” Driving home that day, he decided to build a program for people with ALS that would give them options for living the best possible life with the disease and for participating in research that would stimulate some hope.

Fast forward to March of 2016 when the Lunasin study started. What’s Lunasin and why does it matter to the ALS community? Lunasin is a peptide first extracted from soybeans, which has several potential mechanisms by which it could help a person with ALS. “I first heard about it in a video that my ALSUntangled team was asked to review. In this, a man named Mike McDuff reported that he had ALS, started taking a Lunasin-containing supplement regimen, and unexpectedly experienced dramatic improvements in his speech and swallowing,” says Rick.

He found Mike McDuff and validated his ALS reversal. “One possible explanation for his ALS reversal is that the Lunasin regimen really works,” he says. “Other possible explanations are that Mr. McDuff has an undiagnosed ALS-mimic syndrome, or that his body is somehow naturally ‘resistant’ to this disease. I am testing all these hypotheses in my ALS Reversals program.”

The Lunasin study is a clinical trial of the exact same Lunasin-containing regimen that Mike McDuff took when he experienced his ALS reversal. Because they’re looking for the largest signal ever in an ALS trial, they’ve been able to incorporate some unusual design features into this trial:

  • The inclusion criteria are very broad. There are no cutoffs related to disease duration or breathing function.
  • There are no placebos. All 50 people in the trial will get the real treatments.
  • There are very few in-person visits. Most of the visits are virtual, with participants logging into PatientsLikeMe to enter measurements we teach them to make.
  • The results of the study are available in real time. Anyone can go onto PatientsLikeMe and type in “Lunasin Duke Virtual Trial” and see what participants are saying is happening to them.

“I appreciate the frustration many people with ALS have expressed about the way most of our trials are designed and I wanted to do something different to help them,” says Dr. Bedlack. “It took longer than I expected to get the study open. Constipation is much more common on the Lunasin regimen than I expected, and drop outs have been higher than I hoped thus far.”

The IRB-approved protocol is published so that anyone who wants to try the Lunasin regimen outside the trial can do so using the exact same products and doses, and even record their same outcome measures on PatientsLikeMe.

So, what’s the end game of this study? Dr. Bedlack comments, “I hope to find a way to reverse ALS or at least slow it down. If that does not happen, then I hope I can at least show that this unusual design enrolls more quickly and retains study participants better than a more traditional ALS trial. This is the fastest enrolling trial in ALS history.”

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Paul Wicks weighs in on a new, patient-conceived project

Posted August 22nd, 2016 by

Partnering with patients is at the very core of what we do, but a new collaboration with longtime ALS member Steve Saling (SmoothS) is giving that a new spin — it was Steve’s idea and he’s been driving the project from day one.

Since his diagnosis in 2006, Steve has made it his mission to help other pALS live a better quality of life. He’s founded the ALS Residence Initiative, which has grown from the first fully-automated, vent-ready ALS Residence in Chelsea, Mass., to multiple residences across the country that offer pALS independent living alongside 24-hour care.

Steve sat down with us last week to share about his latest project: producing a series of educational short videos to help caregiving and medical staff better understand the unique care needs of pALS.

But what does this patient-conceived project mean for research? We caught up with our VP of Innovation, Paul Wicks, PhD., to chat more about this project from a research standpoint. Here’s what he had to say:

Working with members for research is in PatientsLikeMe’s DNA, but this collaboration with longtime ALS member Steve Saling (SmoothS) takes it to another level — the project was conceived and driven by Steve. What do you think about this unique partnership? What makes it different than other projects, and what are your expectations? 

There is certainly a lot of buzz out there about being “patient centered” these days – there is a risk that it’s tokenism rather than truly empowering – which means giving up some degree of control to others. In our case we’ve offered Steve access to powerful survey tools and our highly engaged population so he can develop his research about the experiences of other patients like him to help shape the services he designs. That’s really the core of what we do here, bringing the patient voice to decision makers in healthcare, and the reason this is so powerful is that as an architect, as an advocate, as a leader in the space, we’re helping Steve to make better decisions about the unmet needs of his community. My hope is that by giving people an anonymous survey they can complete at their leisure from home or with the use of assistive technology that we might hear from people with ALS who don’t normally have a voice.

In its early stages, the survey was more geared towards pALS and cALS receiving and giving institutional care. Can you talk about the evolution of the project with Steve to include those not in a care setting like that, too? 

We’ve been following Steve’s pioneering work in developing his ALS Residence Initiative for a long time, in fact I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him for a beer a couple of times and I even mentioned it in a TEDx talk as far back as 2010. As a researcher with 13 years experience in ALS I know that while residential care is the right fit for some people with ALS, others don’t have that option or couldn’t imagine being anywhere other than their homes. We also recognized that people have a mix of caregivers, both informal (e.g. spouses, children) and professional (e.g. home help, nurses) and that many patients have a blend of care from different sources throughout their journey. We also wanted to broaden the survey as much as possible so that we could hear from as many people as possible.

One of the goals is to learn from members to get more background context for a series of educational caregiver videos that Steve is producing and PatientsLikeMe is also sponsoring. What else do we hope to learn? 

When you or a loved one is diagnosed with ALS, you get a lot of educational material about the disease. It’s full of statistics and medical jargon about neurons and genetics, but you don’t get much support about how to live with it, how to cope. That could be something as simple as little tips for coping with weakness to something as complex as how to choose the right wheelchair or how to safely transfer with a hoist. Neurologists and experts and professionals can advise and consult, but in most cases they haven’t been there day after day to assist with the basics of daily life that become so hard with ALS, so I’m hoping that with our help Steve can build a permanent resource that will be a great “how to” guide for practical (and sometimes even awkward or embarrassing) topics that people encounter every day.

Caregiver needs are as wide-ranging as the number of people living with a condition, but what do you think is unique about the needs of caregivers of pALS? 

Fear of the unknown is a big one – although we’re seeing increasing awareness about ALS thanks to the Ice Bucket Challenge and movies likeThe Theory of Everything, most people don’t know what ALS is going to involve for them when their loved one is first diagnosed. Many people will want to tiptoe gently in the shallow end of knowing about it rather than diving in at the deep end – it can be hard enough coping with the issues in front of you without having to worry about problems that may or may not arise further down the line. Unlike something like cancer we also lack treatments in ALS, so it can feel like you’re just waiting for the next symptom rather than actively fighting it with drugs or surgery. Perhaps this is just bias, but ALS also tends to affect some of the strongest and most courageous people I’ve known and it can be hard for them to accept that they need help from others – they’ve often been successful professionals or highly active people and so admitting that they need help to walk or to get dressed doesn’t always come naturally to them.

Is anyone else doing research projects like this one that you know of?  

Over the years I’ve seen a little bit of relatively small-scale qualitative research like this published in the main ALS Journal usually from nurses, physical therapists, or occupational therapists, but I’m pretty confident this is the first conducted by a patient!

 

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Steve Saling’s patient-conceived ALS project

Posted August 15th, 2016 by

Steve Saling (SmoothS), a longtime ALS member of PatientsLikeMe, has made it his mission since diagnosis to help other pALS live a better quality of life. He’s founded the ALS Residence Initiative, which has grown from the first fully-automated, vent-ready ALS Residence in Chelsea, Mass., at the Leonard Florence Center for Living, to multiple residences across the country that offer pALS independent living alongside 24-hour care.

His latest project is producing a series of educational short videos to help caregiving and medical staff in nursing homes and other health institutions better understand the unique care needs of pALS. But before he can create these videos, he’s asking other PatientsLikeMe pALS to help him get started by sharing care experiences in an upcoming survey.

We caught up with Steve recently to chat more about this project. Here’s what he had to say:

You’ve teamed up with us to conduct this survey as part of a larger project you’re working on to create a series of short, educational videos for caregivers of pALS in institutional settings. Can you tell us what inspired you to do this? 

I want to make these videos because it is my nightmare to go to the hospital or live in a traditional nursing home and be treated like a product to be taken care of and kept alive instead of living a life. I have a handful of friends, including Patrick O’Brien and Ron Miller, who have survived institutional living. Their stories were horrible but weren’t about mean or cruel caregivers as much as about ignorant caregivers. I think everyone should be able to live in an ALS Residence but, recognizing that that isn’t going to happen for most pALS in the short term, I want to provide a quick easy way to orient and educate well-meaning staff so that taking care of a pALS, who may not be able to speak or breathe, is less scary. If there is fear of the unknown, let’s remove the unknown.

Caregiver needs are as wide-ranging as the number of people living with a condition, but what do you think is unique about the needs of caregivers of pALS? 

This is very true and these videos will not attempt to be very specific in detailing care needs. But I believe there are some universal truths that will apply to most pALS like non-verbal communication, range of motion, and emotional lability. There should also be a basic understanding of what ALS is and what ALS is not. The Ice Bucket Challenge made everyone aware that ALS is a wretched disease but very little understanding of what ALS is. Institutional caregivers need to know that pALS minds remain sharp and our senses undulled. Like a PatientsLikeMe button of mine says, “ALS has stolen my voice, NOT my mind.”

Similarly, why do you think there’s more research needed here and a need for educational videos?

I think a lot of caregivers are intimidated by the unknown and there is a lot unknown about ALS in the long term care industry. If successful, this video series will begin to fill that gap.

What can you tell us about the series of videos? What is your vision for these? 

I hope the videos become a valuable resource for pALS living in or considering moving to a nursing home or chronic hospital. Even someone going to the hospital for a multi-day stay should benefit. I want them to be what pALS would tell the staff if they could speak themselves. The intent is to create a series of six, 5-6 minute videos that would each cover a different aspect of providing excellent care for pALS. There would be a video for understanding ALS, non-verbal communication, range of motion, emotional lability, patience and compassion, and maybe even one for being a good patient. If successful and well received, this could be the beginning of an ongoing series.

What would you like to take away from this survey? What kind of information to you expect to get? And why is this important for your larger project?

I hope to get a big response so we know that the problem is real. I am counting on friends and family of institutionalized pALS to speak in their behalf if their loved one doesn’t have regular access to the internet. Right now, the topics are based on my fears and a small core of brainstormers. I would like to greatly expand that group to determine what the real challenges are that pALS face. I would even like to solicit video questions that may be in the final video.

After the survey, what are the next steps for this project? And will you be asking the community for any further insight?

I would like to create a focus group out of the willing poll takers. This should be a community project. We will work with a professional filmmaker to storyboard each of the videos along with identifying a recognized expert to address the issue at hand. The filming and editing will take place and there will be a grand release, hopefully with much fanfare and putting PLM in the spotlight for making it happen.

Is there anything you’d like to say to your pALS on PatientsLikeMe? 

Kick ALS’ ass every day. Live long and prosper. Life is good.

 

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What Is Health?

Posted February 20th, 2013 by

It seems like a basic question, but at PatientsLikeMe, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what it means.  Check out Co-Founder and Chairman Jamie Heywood’s thought-provoking presentation below at the Swiss Re Centre for Global Dialogue’s “Future of Human Longevity” conference.

Can you really understand concepts such as health, mobility or well-being without measuring or comparing them?  See why Jamie argues that you can’t – and also why one’s “health span” may be more important than one’s “lifespan.”  Click the image below to tune in.

Click on this screenshot to begin the slideshow presentation.

*After clicking the image above, select the “08:45” link to your left to start the presentation.


PatientsLikeMe at the 2nd Annual White Coat Affair for ALS TDI

Posted November 28th, 2012 by

On Friday, November 2nd, several PatientsLikeMe team members donned their finest to attend the 2nd Annual White Coat Affair, a charity gala benefiting the ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALS TDI).  Founded by PatientsLikeMe Co-Founder and Chairman Jamie Heywood in 1999, ALS TDI is the world’s most advanced research laboratory dedicated to ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The PatientsLikeMe Team Along with ALS Patient Steve Saling (Front) at the 2nd Annual White Coat Affair for ALS TDI

This gala fundraiser was held in conjunction with ALS TDI’s 8th Annual Leadership Summit, which included in-depth scientific presentations by top ALS researchers, a discussion panel with industry leaders and an awards ceremony honoring individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to ALS research and advocacy.  (View the summit webcast here.)  PatientsLikeMe was a proud sponsor of this annual gathering of the most influential minds in the ALS community.  In particular, we were honored to witness the posthumous awarding of the Stephen Heywood Patients Today Award – given annually to an individual who exemplifies what it means to be an educator, role model and advocate – to beloved PatientsLikeMe member Persevering (Rob Tison).

Keeping with the Laboratory Theme, The Name Cards Were Inspired by the Periodic Table of Elements

Held at the Fairmont Copley Plaza in Boston the next night, A White Coat Affair was an opportunity for summit attendees to unwind and socialize via cocktails, a dinner program, live music and dancing.  In honor of the theme, servers wore white lab coats, name cards were labeled like the periodic table and vases were filled with brightly colored liquid to resemble lab tubes.  A special highlight of the dinner program this year was the Young Perspectives on ALS segment, which featured the stories of two young people living with ALS (Corey Reich and Pete Frates) as well as four young people who are the children of ALS patients (Katie Shambo, Sam Ketchum, Jenn Sutherland and Alex Heywood).

As you might have guessed, Alex Heywood is the son of Stephen Heywood and nephew of PatientsLikeMe Co-Founders Jamie Heywood and Ben Heywood.  Both ALS TDI and PatientsLikeMe were inspired by Stephen’s seven-year battle with ALS, a rapidly progressive neurodegenerative disease with an average life expectancy of two to five years following diagnosis.

Young ALS Patients and the Sons and Daughters of ALS Patients Were the Focus of This Year's Dinner Program

Approximately 350 guests attended A White Coat Affair, helping to raise $450,000 towards ALS TDI’s efforts to discover and develop effective treatments for ALS. After a decade of progress, the institute is entering a time of great promise, with several therapies in clinical trials and their own work on Gilenya (a drug currently approved for treating multiple sclerosis) and other potential therapeutics moving into the clinical realm.  Learn more about ALS TDI’s current research projects here.

To see more photos from the 2nd Annual White Coat Affair, visit the event’s Facebook page.


A Little More About Us: A Look Back at the Founding of PatientsLikeMe

Posted July 21st, 2011 by

“I got this call from my brother Stephen, and he said the news doesn’t look good. At that point, he’d been through enough processes to know what that meant – he had ALS. So I began this journey with my brother and my family…. We were thinking there had to be a way to make this about the patient. But it started like everyone else. You get that phone call, and your life changes.”Jamie Heywood, Co-Founder

Recently, we launched a new and improved About Us page that included a short video about our company history. Now, we’re pleased to unveil a longer, more in-depth video that allows you to hear our founding story from four PatientsLikeMe executives and learn what drew each of them to become a part of our groundbreaking concept.

Tune in below to hear where it all started and why, five years later, we’re committed to continuing the journey we’re all on – as a company, as patients and as family members of those affected by disease.

You can also watch this insightful piece (~15 minutes) in three smaller segments:  Chapter 1, Chapter 2 and Chapter 3.


ALS Awareness Month: ALS Patients Are “In Motion”

Posted May 14th, 2010 by

Did you know there are more than 4,500 patients in the PatientsLikeMe ALS community sharing and learning from each other every day?  Outside of our community, patients are also teaming up to raise awareness and money for ALS research. Here is a highlights video of ALS members who have participated in our PatientsLikeMeInMotionTM program, stepping up to give back to the community.


FALS Patients Like You: An Interview with Samperio

Posted July 8th, 2009 by

Today, more than 3,600 people with ALS are sharing their health data and experiences with patients like them.  Recently, we announced our new genetic search engine for ALS patients, designed to help members find others like them, right down to the molecular level.  With 10% of all newly diagnosed ALS patients joining PatientsLikeMe, there are more and more people sharing their health information, including genetic data, to help learn about this disease.

Our research team’s geneticist Dr. Catherine Brownstein recently interviewed Samperio, one of the first members to enter in his genetics on PatientsLikeMe. Later this year, Catherine will be presenting the genetic data shared on PatientsLikeMe to the leading doctors, researchers and thought leaders in the industry to help us all learn more about ALS, and the genes affecting the condition.

Here’s what Samperio had to say about life with familial ALS (FALS) and hope for the future.

***

18520 (Catherine) Thanks for agreeing to the interview!  You recently joined PatientsLikeMe and revealed that you have a SOD1 genetic mutation, the cause of your familial ALS.  When did it all start and how has this form of ALS affected you and your family?
6001
(Samperio) My ALS is affecting my family [the same] as any other form of ALS. I stopped working, and my wife has to work for both of us. I never had the chance to play soccer or teach my 9-year old son to ride a bike, as I did with my previous sons.

I lived the same ALS story with my mother.  She died when I was 18. It took her approximately 10 years, from beginning to end. My symptoms begin at age 40; my ankles were weak. So I was suspicious of ALS. A few years later, I had the DNA exam in Houston, TX and it came positive for FALS.

My biggest hope is my family, especially my wife. I know what a burden I am, since I lived that experience with my mother.

18520 (Catherine) You previously mentioned that your doctor had never seen your genetic mutation before.  How much do you know about your SOD1?
6001 (Samperio) Almost nothing. The DNA exam was performed 6 years ago. The doctors never told me anything regarding my genetics.

I have never met anyone with FALS.

18520 (Catherine) So now you’ve joined a site with people just like you — even people with the same genetic causes for ALS.  What has been your experience on PatientsLikeMe?
6001 (Samperio) By joining PLM, I have found so much comfort on all the daily interaction, reading all those people [with the same disease] who share the same interest as I do.
18520 (Catherine) What is your hope for the future of ALS research?
6001 (Samperio) As for the future of the ALS research, obviously to find a cure for this disease.

I will give all [my] help to the ALS cause.

18520 (Catherine) Thanks again for sharing, Samperio!

Announcing the PatientsLikeMe ALS Genetics Search Engine

Posted April 8th, 2009 by

This month marks the 3-year anniversary of our flagship ALS community.  While there have been so many exciting milestones we’ve reached in that time, we’re always looking at ways to bring new insight to this disease.

Today, we’re announcing the launch of our Genetics Search Engine for people with ALS.  Imagine finding other patients just like you, down to the genetic level.  Patients in our ALS community can now do that.  (For patients who don’t see their genetic mutation right now, that’s alright.  They can be the first with that genetic mutation to join our community and share information about the disease.)

What does sharing genetics mean for research?  By capturing data on familial ALS patients’ known genetics (such as SOD1 A4V, SOD1 D90A, and VAPB P56S), we can learn more about the cause and effects of every kind of ALS and better our chances of advancing research and finding new treatments. Our goal in launching the Genetics Search Engine (and other upgrades like it) is to help patients find others just like them and enhance our understanding of the phenotype of each genetic mutation (i.e., different causes of ALS have faster or slower disease progression).

The Genetics Search Engine is a major step toward incorporating genetics for the PatientsLikeMe communities, and it’s an exciting one.  Give it a try and let us know what you think…

PatientsLikeMe member cbrownstein