47 posts tagged “Parkinson’s Disease”

World Parkinson’s Day: Meet Eileen, a PatientsLikeMe researcher with a passion for PD

Posted April 11th, 2017 by

Researcher Interview on Parkinson's Disease

Today is World Parkinson’s Day, and 2017 marks the 200th anniversary of the identification of Parkinson’s Disease (PD). Meet Eileen Mack Thorley, a research scientist with a passion for PD research. By day, she works on a variety of research projects at PatientsLikeMe. On her own time, you might find her doing FaceTime with her dad to help him practice his physical therapy exercises for living with Parkinson’s. He was diagnosed with PD more than 10 years ago.

Eileen said her father’s PD diagnosis inspired her to get involved with the Team Fox Foundation Young Professionals of Boston (part of the Michael J. Fox Foundation), and ultimately led her to venture into PD research as part of her day job.

Eileen has a master’s degree in public health and specializes in epidemiology, data analysis and public health research. She has been working in the field for 8 years, previously focusing on the areas of substance abuse and maternal and child health.

“Where I want to be now is focusing on Parkinson’s research and community health – living with the disease and bringing the patient experience into research,” Eileen said. In addition to a focus on traditional medical breakthroughs in Parkinson’s research, she has a personal interest in the area of complementary therapies for PD management – especially music and relaxation. “There’s a growing body of research on the benefits of relaxation.  How can we better understand and apply these benefits as part of disease management?”

Eileen attended the 4th World Parkinson Congress in Portland, Oregon, this past fall and wanted to share some highlights from the conference.

What was it like to attend the World Parkinson Congress as both a researcher and a family member of a person living with PD?

On a professional level, I was excited for the opportunity to attend this conference to expand my current understanding of the latest in research and medical advancements with the aim of applying new insights to our research. The conference brings together researchers, health care practitioners and patients living with Parkinson’s around the current state in Parkinson’s research, science and care.

Personally, it was also a meaningful experience to me to have exposure to this conference and community as I have a family connection. My dad has been living with a Parkinson’s for over 10 years.  Parkinson’s certainly has had a profound impact on our family and it’s difficult for me to adequately express how important improved care, treatment and any discoveries that improve daily life are to me.

Could you walk us through an overview and some highlights of the conference? Did the conference feel patient-centered? How so? 

Over 4,500 attendees from 67 countries were present, including over 2,000 patients living with Parkinson’s, their care partners, and family members. It was encouraging to reflect on how many people are working on different ways to make life better for those living with Parkinson’s with an ultimate eye toward a cure.

 

“Being in a huge convention space filled with physicians; care providers; non-profits; clinicians; scientists who dedicated their lives toward care, research and support in Parkinson’s – alongside others who experience this disease first-hand in daily life – was truly powerful and humbling.”
–Eileen on attending the 4th World Parkinson Congress

 

From my view as both a researcher and a family member, I appreciated that there was a combination of technical discussion on the latest in treatments and research along with a presence of the patient voice and experience. After a plenary discussion on the latest in deep brain stimulation (DBS), including ultrasound as a developing, non-surgical approach (albeit mainly for tremor, including other caveats), there was a presentation from a patient named Andy McDowell who went through DBS and he shared his story. Some of the other research themes included wearables and apps to track movements; immuno-therapeutic approaches and targeting alpha-synuclein (this was a particular focus in drug development as it could be helpful across a range of conditions including but not limited to Parkinson’s); and genetics research (primarily on the LRRK2 gene).

I appreciated that the conference highlighted non-drug and complimentary therapies in addition to medical care including a focus on exercise, relaxation and wellness services for patients; the conference included a “Wellness Way” section where patients could sign up for massage, reiki, yoga (‘yogadopa’), boxing (with Rock Steady Boxing), singing/vocal exercises, dance, breath-work and more.

 

“I sat in on one of the wellness sessions to observe with the aim of picking up any insight to share with my dad. An atmosphere of support among patients was palpable and touching.”
–Eileen on the wellness sessions at the WPC

 

All together, these elements helped set a nice tone for the conference – research and applied practice; clinical care and daily life once you are home and no longer in the doctor’s office.

What were some of your biggest takeaways from the conference? Can you apply anything you learned at the conference to your job at PatientsLikeMe? 

While the conference highlighted many of the advancements and the current work is promising, we know much more work is needed. There is a large community and network of efforts around care and research, and we all have a role to play. The conference underlined the importance of bringing the patient voice to technical research and these projects. There are so many unknowns. There’s so much we need to learn from your experience.

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Checking in with member Bev – “Laughter and comedy are still a huge part of my health management.”

Posted January 17th, 2017 by

Remember Bev (YumaBev), who we met back in 2012, after she’d just had deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery? She told us about her blog Parkinson’s Humor and a book of stories from her blog, Parkinson’s Humor: Funny Stories about My Life with Parkinson’s. Well we recently caught up with her again to see how things have been going since we last spoke.

Check out the latest with Bev to see what she had to say about being an eternal optimist, connecting with other “Parkies” and the power of laughter.

It’s been a while (4 years) since we last caught up! How have things been going?

The last time we spoke, I had just had the first part of my DBS surgery. The surgery was an eventual success, but I had some minor complications. The skin on my scalp was so thin, it pulled apart where it was sutured. There was never any infection, but it did require several surgeries and a plastic surgeon to finally get my scalp to stay closed and heal properly. Right in the middle of all these scalp surgeries, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and the tumor was just below my DBS generator, so that made the cancer surgery a bit tricky. I also had a slight complication from the cancer surgery, in that the nerve in my right arm was pinched, so I had limited use of my right arm for about 6 months. Then my DBS settings were encroaching on the mood part of my brain, causing a severe depression. Needless to say, most of 2013 was definitely not a good year!!!

However, my scalp stayed closed and my hair grew back, my arm fixed itself, the cancer is gone (so far) and once my DBS settings were adjusted, the depression quickly disappeared.

Now my DBS settings are controlling almost all my Parkinson’s disease motor symptoms. I’m taking way less Parkinson’s disease medicines and I am back to sleeping 8 hours a night, which is something I hadn’t done in many years. Everything is about as good as it can be with Parkinson’s.

In your profile you mention that it took 8 years to get a diagnosis. Can you tell us a little about that journey?

My early Parkinson’s symptoms were not the typical resting tremor common in more elderly patients. The first symptom that sent me to a doctor was upper back pain near my shoulder blade/spine. I was referred to an orthopedist. Next came the inability to double click my computer mouse at work (more orthopedists.) Difficulty writing followed and then a tremor, but only when my hand was being used. (Think food flying off my fork and across the room.) After being x-rayed, CT-scanned and MRI’d, with everything coming back normal, I was finally referred to a neurologist. He diagnosed essential tremor (ET) and prescribed propranolol. This helped the tremor, but nothing else. My dad had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s the year before, so I asked if it could be Parkinson’s and was told, absolutely not. (Guess he was wrong.)

As my symptoms progressed, I confounded many more doctors, mostly general practitioners and more orthopedists. I even asked my dad’s neurologist if I might have Parkinson’s and he said, “Don’t waste my time, your problem isn’t neurological.” (Guess he was wrong, too.)

My symptoms kept slowly worsening, I needed help putting on a jacket and getting up from a chair. I startled very easily and had difficulty cutting my food. I was very stiff and rigid. My step-daughter, who I saw only once a year or so, was shocked at how much worse I was each visit.

Then my symptoms started progressing rapidly. I was losing the ability to do things daily. I needed help dressing. I could no longer drive. I had difficulty brushing my hair. I walked like I’d had a stroke and my right hand and arm were always curled. My GP was on maternity leave and not wanting to start over with a brand new GP, I took matters into my own hands. I KNEW it had to be neurological, everything else had been ruled out. I also knew it wasn’t ET because the tremors moved to my other arm.

I got a list of neurologists within 300 miles of where I lived, off a medical website. I typed a letter, detailing my medical history and symptoms, and started sending them out alphabetically. I’d send out about five, then wait to see if I heard back. Then I’d send more and wait. When I got to letter W, I almost gave up. But I sent the last few and waited. Dr. Zonis’ office manager called me, said they knew exactly what was wrong and had me come in the next day. They were right in the same town I now lived in, Yuma, AZ. He said Parkinson’s, gave me carbi/levodopa and five pills later, I could move again!

Now, to be fair, we moved around a lot, so the first neurologist I saw was in Colorado, my dad’s was in Florida, and the last one in Arizona. But MANY young onsets don’t have the same symptoms as elderly patients. Dr. Zonis was in his mid-60’s and I was the first young onset he’d ever seen in his practice.

In your last interview you talked about the power of laughter. What role does comedy play in your life now?

Laughter and comedy are still a huge part of my health management. Laughter stimulates your brain to produce more neurotransmitters, like dopamine, so it really is good medicine. And with no side effects! Well, you might pee your pants, but then you laugh at that, too.

You describe yourself as an eternal optimist – how has that influenced your experience with Parkinson’s?

Some people have optimistic tendencies, some have pessimistic ones. I think it is part of you, just like eye color or skin tone. I have always been optimistic, but I know what depression is like (from my DBS induced depression) and I can now empathize with people who feel depressed. It is awful, your whole body aches. You wake up feeling like you’ve been boxing all night with Mike Tyson. You have no hope and you feel down.

Everyone with Parkinson’s disease is different. We progress differently and have different symptoms, but I think my positive attitude explains why, after being symptomatic for 20+ years, I am doing so well.

What’s it been like connecting with others on PatientsLikeMe? Has it helped you manage your condition?

Connecting with others with Parkinson’s disease is essential to living well with the illness. Your doctor doesn’t have the time or knowledge to help you figure out how to live with Parkinson’s disease, they only know how to write prescriptions. People with Parkinson’s disease know the best local doctors, dentists, therapists and helpful tricks and are willing to share their life experiences. For example, replacing medicine bottle caps with the flip top ones that come on vitamin bottles. Parkies also can tell you if this symptom is common or if this side effect is dangerous.

 

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Meet Gary from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted January 12th, 2017 by

Meet Gary (tupelo), a husband, father and grandfather who lives with Parkinson’s disease. Gary’s also a member of the 2016-2017 Team of Advisors. He believes that physical exercise slows the progression of Parkinson’s and practices Tai Chi and Qigong on a regular basis.

Check out Gary’s story and his outlook on life with Parkinson’s: “Accepting your condition doesn’t mean you must resign yourself to it.”

 What gives you the greatest joy and puts a smile on your face?

There are many things that give me joy in life. In my personal life, I love sports, reading a good book and drinking a glass of good wine.  In my professional life, I’m motivated by taking on the challenge of new opportunities, taking an idea and creating a business around it, or public speaking. However, nothing gives me more joy in my life than my family. They are the reason I push myself so hard to understand all there is to know about Parkinson’s Disease while searching for a way to stop or slow the progression. My phone, my computer and my desk all contain pictures of my two young grandsons.  That’s what brings a smile to my face each day.

How would you describe your condition to someone who isn’t living with it and doesn’t understand what it’s like?

Living with a chronic, progressive disease is basically like having a new full-time job. Managing medication, scheduling medical appointments, keeping up with current literature and research, keeping involved with my Parkinson’s advocacy and volunteer work, while making sure I exercise daily can become exhausting.  The greatest obstacle and challenge I have living with Parkinson’s is doing all of this while also trying to maintain my professional career and leave time to continue to live and enjoy life to its fullest.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone newly diagnosed with a chronic condition, what would it be?

The best advice I can offer to someone newly diagnosed with a chronic illness is do all you can to take control of the situation. Research the condition, put together the best medical team you can find, search out all the options for treatment and control of the disease, make your support team (family and/or friends) aware of your condition and lean on them when needed, and do whatever you need to do to fight for your health.  Then, after you have taken control to the best of your ability, remember to GO LIVE YOUR LIFE. You had no choice in getting your condition, but you have plenty of choices in how you live your life afterwards. Accepting your condition doesn’t mean you must resign yourself to it.

What made you want to join the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors?

 Since being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease almost five years ago, I have been actively involved in the PD community.  I’ve spoken publicly on a variety of topics, including drug development, clinical trials and patient volunteers, government regulations, resource allocation, access to records and information, interaction with healthcare providers and overall patient treatment and care.  Along the way I’ve come to learn how difficult it is for patients to have their voices heard and their opinions considered.  I’ve also realized how difficult it is to change any bureaucracy, and our healthcare system is right out the top of the list.  I was thrilled to join the Team of Advisors because I’ve seen firsthand what PLM has been able to accomplish in both helping patients and influencing change. As patients dealing with chronic conditions, we all share similar concerns, problems and issues.  We will be much more successful in producing meaningful changes as advocates of a combined patient community than we ever could individually or as separate disease communities.

Has there been any positive impact to your life from living with Parkinson’s Disease?

On first thought, it’s hard to imagine how someone could have a positive impact from a progressive chronic disease. However, I had several positive changes because of my diagnosis. First, I’ve come to appreciate and enjoy life much more than I did prior to diagnosis. As a Type A personality, I spent way too much time and focus on my career and had all the associated stress that came with the job.  I now try to eliminate stress as much as possible.  I control what I can and let go of what I can’t. Second, I spend much more time with my family, rather than time in the office. Finally, by becoming involved in advocacy for my condition, I’ve made friends with people from all over the world.  Our paths in life would never have crossed if not for our conditions.  There is no better example of that than the Team of Advisors and how quickly 11 strangers with different conditions bonded together over a long weekend. So yes, it is possible to have a positive impact that can coincide with all the challenges and problems that occur from living with a chronic disease.

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PatientsLikeMe Welcomes Next Patient Team of Advisors

Posted November 14th, 2016 by

 

CAMBRIDGE, Mass, November 14, 2016PatientsLikeMe has named 11 members to its patients-only 20162017 Team of Advisors, which this year will focus on elevating the patient voice. Team members will share their stories, participate in community initiatives, and give real world perspectives to our industry and research partners.

“Each year, our Team of Advisors has proven an invaluable source of inspiration and support for the PatientsLikeMe community,” said PatientsLikeMe CEO Martin Coulter. “We look forward to learning from this year’s team as we partner to identify how we can change healthcare for the better.”

More than 500 PatientsLikeMe members submitted applications for this year’s Team of Advisors. Those selected represent a range of medical and professional backgrounds and ages. They are living with a cross-section of conditions, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), autonomic neuropathy, bipolar disorder, epilepsy, fibromyalgia, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), lung cancer, lupus, multiple sclerosis (MS) and Parkinson’s disease. Members named to the team include: Cris Simon, Gary Rafaloff, Ginny Emerson, Glenda Rouland, Hetlena Johnson, Jacquie Toth, Jim Seaton, John Blackshear, Kimberly Hartmann, Laura Sanscartier and Lindsay Washington.

John Blackshear is living with multiple sclerosis (MS) and looks forward to the opportunity to share his story with others, and collaborate with PatientsLikeMe and other members of the Team of Advisors. “My experience with PatientsLikeMe has been filled with exploration, information and conversation. My health journey has been positively impacted through my connection with other members, by the various tools for tracking and logging health data, and by opportunities just like this – to participate in an advisory capacity.”

The 2016-2017 Team of Advisors recently kicked off their 12-month collaboration with PatientsLikeMe in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and will convene several times during the upcoming year. This is the third Team of Advisors the company has formed. The 2015 team focused on redefining patient partnerships and established new ways for the healthcare industry to connect with patients to deliver better care. In 2014, the inaugural group provided feedback to the research team and discussed ways that researchers can meaningfully engage patients throughout the research process.

About PatientsLikeMe

PatientsLikeMe is a patient network that improves lives and a real-time research platform that advances medicine. Through the network, patients connect with others who have the same disease or condition and track and share their own experiences. In the process, they generate data about the real-world nature of disease that help researchers, pharmaceutical companies, regulators, providers, and nonprofits develop more effective products, services, and care. With more than 400,000 members, PatientsLikeMe is a trusted source for real-world disease information and a clinically robust resource that has published more than 85 research studies. Visit us at www.patientslikeme.com or follow us via our blog, Twitter or Facebook.

Contact
Katherine Bragg
PatientsLikeMe
kbragg@patientslikeme.com
617.548.1375


“Seesawing Libidos”: A podcast for Parkinson’s Awareness Month

Posted April 11th, 2016 by

April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month, and this year we’re getting personal.

Seesawing libidos,” an episode of WBUR Boston’s Modern Love podcast, explores an unexpected side effect of a Parkinson’s medication: an overactive sex drive. The story comes from comedian Marc Jaffe, whose wife Karen was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 15 years into their marriage.

Before Karen’s diagnosis, Marc was the one with the stronger libido, but their roles would reverse after she started her medication. Compulsive behavior was a side effect, and in Karen’s case, it manifested as hypersexuality. Marc shares, “Those pills would change our lives more than Parkinson’s.”

Eventually, Karen was able to channel her obsessive behavior into fundraising and advocating for Parkinson’s. Check out the podcast to hear more of Marc’s reflections on how a medication could affect his marriage in such an intimate way.

Have you ever experienced a side effect that changed your personal life? How did you cope? Jump in the forum and share your story.

 

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Meet Jeff from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted January 20th, 2016 by

Say hello to Jeff, another member of your 2015-2016 PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors. Since he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) 20 years ago, Jeff does his best to stay active—in both exercise and advocacy.

Keeping up with his two teenage daughters is challenging enough, but when he’s up to it, Jeff also golfs, plays tennis and practices Tae Kwon Do (he’s a 3rd Degree Black Belt). And as an advocate for PD education, he’s participated in a panel discussion sponsored by Beth Israel and Deaconess Hospitals and given a presentation at Harvard Medical School.

Here, Jeff opens up about his biggest frustrations and encourages other patients to stay active and engaged.

What gives you the greatest joy and puts a smile on your face?

I have always enjoyed living life day by day and not taking myself too seriously. I believe that there many things that can be serious (i.e., health conditions, living conditions, world economics are a few), but people’s basic construct should be less serious. For example, watching my two daughters enjoy daily life at home puts a smile on my face.

What has been your greatest obstacle living with your condition, and what societal shifts do you think need to happen so that we’re more compassionate or understanding of these challenges?

A corollary to my not taking myself too seriously is my belief that the vast majority of people in a 1 to 1 relationship are compassionate and willing to learn about the day to day challenges of living with a disability. The challenge is keeping that compassion as we move from the individual to groups of people, larger organizations, etc. As groups grow in size, the compassion shrinks almost to nothing.

The one thing that I have the greatest frustration with is the frequent difficulty I have communicating with other people. My speaking ability can be so poor that I perceive my audience questions my mental faculties.

How has your condition impacted your social or family life?

My world in some ways has become smaller. My wife and I don’t go out as frequently as we once did, nor do we entertain at home as much. In either case, going out or entertaining at home has become a bigger responsibility for my wife. One of my PD off-periods can occur at any time and more occurrences happen during the evening than during the day causing additional work load for my wife.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone newly diagnosed with a chronic condition, what would it be?

The voyage of Life continues. It is better to be an active participant than a sideline observer.  Get engaged, exercise, do things. Don’t sit at home feeling sorry for yourself.  Always take the extra step.

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A patient’s perspective: member Gary reports back from the FDA public meeting on Parkinson’s disease

Posted October 27th, 2015 by

Back in September, Sally Okun, Vice President of Advocacy, Policy and Patient Safety, and community moderator Molly Cotter, attended the FDA public meeting on Parkinson’s disease (PD) along with PatientsLikeMe member Gary (tupelo).

We posted some interesting developments from the meeting in the forum, but we also caught up with Gary for his perspective on the event. Here’s what he had to say:

Why did you want to be part of the FDA public meeting?

On the day I was diagnosed, back in 2012, I spent a great deal of time reflecting on my life. I thought a lot about how Parkinson’s disease will impact me and my family in the future. On that day I made a commitment to myself that I was going to take control, to the best of my ability, on the course of the disease progression, and would do anything possible to find a cure. I was determined to educate myself as much as possible about the disease, put together the best possible health care team, learn all I could about treatments currently in research, and participate in clinical trials. Parkinson’s was a new challenge in my life and I intended to tackle it like I would any other challenge that I had faced in the past. Along the way in this new journey, I became more publicly involved as a PD advocate, both for advancing research as well as supporting newly diagnosed patients. So, when I noticed the FDA announcement regarding the meeting, I decided to send in my comments and thoughts in hope that they might be helpful, to whatever degree, in moving research along for better treatments.

What did it mean to be accepted?

When I submitted my comments I never expected to be asked to participate on one of the panels, nor was I intending to attend the meeting, which was on the eve of a religious holiday. I was quite surprised when I was contacted by the FDA, but was caught in a dilemma. Participation meant missing an important time with my family. However, when we discussed it, we all agreed that this was such a great opportunity, and honor, to be able to represent the needs of the millions of Parkinson’s disease patients worldwide to the FDA. There was no way I could turn down that kind of invitation.

What was it like being there as a patient representative at the FDA event? Did you feel like your voice was heard?

I’ve participated in a number of seminars and conferences in the past, so there wasn’t much difference with the arrangement for this meeting. If anything, it was much more low key. Nevertheless, I definitely had a sense of awe when I arrived at the FDA complex. There were multiple buildings all over the sprawling campus. It immediately reminded me of the importance of this event compared to others I’ve attended. We were going to be presenting to the Director of the FDA’s Division of Neurology Products and nine other senior staff members. This is about as high up as we could go in our advocacy to advance Parkinson’s disease research.

During the meeting, it was difficult for me to tell how our presentations were going and whether they would have an impact on the FDA’s staff, although it appeared to me that they were listening intently. I was certainly concerned about the limited amount of time I had to speak. Several days later, though, I watched the webinar presentation of our event and I felt that we hit on the large majority of the most important areas of concern that our community has regarding current and new treatments. Only time will tell if the FDA will act accordingly with our hopes and suggestions. One small item that I noticed which suggests that they were listing involves a question on the Patient Questionnaire at the meeting. We were asked to choose from a list of Parkinson’s symptoms the ones that were most impactful on our lives. In my presentation, along with several of the other panel members, we noted that they didn’t include pain or orthostatic hypotension, two very common symptoms, on their list. I did, however, see that on the new follow-up survey the FDA is conducting, they have added both symptoms to the bottom of the list. So, at a minimum, they were listening as we spoke about these debilitating symptoms.

What did you learn while you were there?

Well, I can’t say that I learned much about the disease while I was there, but, of course, that wasn’t the purpose of the meeting. Our presentations were intended to educate the senior staff and decision makers of the FDA. That being said, what I did learn was the amazing dedication and effort that members of our Parkinson’s community will undertake in order to be heard at a forum. Members with severe difficulties traveled from all parts of our country in order to be able to speak for a few minutes. I was truly honored, and most definitely humbled, to be part of a panel with these dedicated individuals. If you haven’t yet seen the archived presentation of the meeting online, I suggest that you at least watch the members of the first panel speak to the FDA about their symptoms, it was amazing.

What are your hopes for future research in Parkinson’s disease?

We were asked by the FDA to limit our answers to their questions in the context outside of finding an actual cure. In addition, we were mainly directing our responses to the FDA’s role of controlling the approval and distribution of prescription drugs, more so than studying the potential impact of alternative therapies such as exercise, vitamins or other supplements, or the development of new medical devices to assist with symptomatic control (all of which are needed). So I’ll stay within that premise.

I see the need for a three-direction approach for future research. First, we need to continue and expand research into the biological science of Parkinson’s disease, as well as other neurological diseases with similar developmental processes, such as Alzheimer’s and ALS. With a better understanding of the disease cause, pathways, and progression, we will have a much greater chance of finding better treatments and potential cures.

Second, I would like to see research into the development of better symptomatic treatments. These treatments should be effective for multiple symptoms, have fewer disabling side effects, and have extended release and longer term activity. Although today’s treatments are somewhat effective treating motor impairment, they are greatly lacking in effectiveness for many other non-motor symptoms. Many of the drugs have side effects that can be more disabling than the symptoms they treat. In addition, it would be desirable for new treatments have ease of administration, such as oral, sublingual or inhalable as opposed to invasive surgery or device implantation.

Third, and most importantly, we need research to discover interventional treatments that can slow or halt the disease progression, if not totally cure it. This research should target the development of new drugs and vaccines that can intercede along all of the numerous biological pathways as the disease progresses. For example, we would find means to either stop the misfolding of proteins, prevent proteins already misfolded from accumulating in brain cells, or eliminate misfolded proteins which have already accumulated and are leading to cell death. Finally, I would like to see more research in alternative treatments, such as stem cells and human growth factors, in addition to traditional drug development. It’s imperative that the FDA allow our scientists to be as innovative as possible as they attempt to find treatments and cures for the most complex illnesses we have in brain diseases. With new interventional disease modifying drugs, along with improved symptomatic treatments and a proper exercise regimen, most, if not all of us dealing with Parkinson’s disease would be able to live active and productive lives for many years beyond our diagnosis.

For more information, check out the full video of Gary’s panel. And don’t forget to visit the site to connect with Gary and the more than 11,000 other PatientsLikeMe members living with Parkinson’s disease.

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PatientsLikeMe Names 2015-2016 Team of Advisors, Sets Focus on Redefining Patient Partnerships

Posted October 19th, 2015 by

Cambridge, MA, October 19, 2015—PatientsLikeMe has named 14 members to its patient-only 20152016 Team of Advisors and challenged them to work through an issue that’s central to everyone in the healthcare system: how to redefine patient partnerships. The team will be focused on rethinking what it means for patients to be partners, and on establishing new ways for the healthcare industry to connect with patients to deliver better care.

PatientsLikeMe CEO Martin Coulter said that in an era when patients must be front and center in healthcare discovery and development, the group’s mission is vital to every patient, pharmaceutical company, regulator, payor and provider. “This advisory team includes some of the strongest patient advocates we have ever met. Their experience can empower other patients, and help those serving patients understand what it means to be a good partner. The team’s work will help create a stronger foundation for a more equal and participatory system of care.

More than 1,400 PatientsLikeMe members submitted applications for this year’s Team of Advisors. Those selected represent a range of medical and professional backgrounds and ages. The nearly equal mix of men and women are living with a cross-section of conditions, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), bipolar II, cancer, Type 1 diabetes, fibromyalgia, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), lupus, major depressive disorder (MDD), multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and post traumatic stress (PTS). Members named to the team include: Christel Aprigliano, Craig Braquet, Jeff Demers, Cyrena Gawuga, David Gewirtz, Phyllis Marchand, John Michael, Gus Prieto, Laura Roix, Patti Sanner, Allison Silensky, Angela Stogner, Doug Thornburg and Peggy Zuckerman.

Christel Aprigliano is living with Type 1 diabetes and believes that the key to a good partnership is a focused, data-driven discussion on what matters most to patients. “Patient reported outcomes are crucial to the healthcare conversation. The more information we can share about what life is like for patients every day, the more questions we can ask each other, and the better we can help patients live well with the disease they have.”

The 2015-2016 Team of Advisors recently kicked off their 12-month collaboration with PatientsLikeMe in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and will convene several times in the coming months. This is the second Team of Advisors the company has formed. Last year, the inaugural group provided feedback to the research team and published a best practices guide that outlines new standards for how researchers can meaningfully engage patients throughout the research process.

About PatientsLikeMe
PatientsLikeMe® (www.patientslikeme.com) is a patient network that improves lives and a real-time research platform that advances medicine. Through the network, patients connect with others who have the same disease or condition and track and share their own experiences. In the process, they generate data about the real-world nature of disease that help researchers, pharmaceutical companies, regulators, providers, and nonprofits develop more effective products, services and care. With more than 350,000 members, PatientsLikeMe is a trusted source for real-world disease information and a clinically robust resource that has published more than 60 peer-reviewed research studies. Visit us at www.patientslikeme.com or follow us via our blog, Twitter or Facebook.

Contact
Margot Carlson Delogne
PatientsLikeMe
mcdelogne@patientslikeme.com
781.492.1039


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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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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You can make a difference in April

Posted April 3rd, 2015 by

Eight years ago this April, the PatientsLikeMe Parkinson’s disease (PD) community launched, and now, more than 12,500 people are sharing about what it’s like to live with PD. What better way to recognize this awesome community than to participate in Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month?

Listen to Leslie Chambers, the president and CEO of the American Parkinson’s Disease Association (APDA), explain the facts about PD in the video below:

As she says, 60,000 people worldwide will be diagnosed with PD in 2015 – that averages out to 164 people every day, or one person every nine minutes.

This April, it’s not just about the 12,5,000+ PatientsLikeMe members living with PD, or the 60,000 people who will be diagnosed in 2015 – it’s about everyone who is living and has ever lived with PD, and all their family, friends and colleagues who have been affected.

You can make a difference. The APDA is running a “30 days, 30 ways” campaign all month long, so be sure to check their website daily to learn how to get involved. The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation is also participating in raising awareness, and they’ve created a great toolkit to get you started. And don’t forget to share through the #PDawareness or #Parkinsons hashtags.

If you’ve been diagnosed with PD, join 12,500 others in sharing to live better, together.

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Patients as Partners: Hallucinations and Parkinson’s disease questionnaire results

Posted February 26th, 2015 by

It’s time for another Patients as Partners post, and today, we’re happy to share the results of the Hallucinations and Parkinson’s disease questionnaire.

In March 2014, more than 500 PatientsLikeMe members living with Parkinson’s disease (PD) took part in an Open Research Exchange (ORE) questionnaire about their condition. They worked with Dennis Chan and Ruth Wood from the University of Cambridge to understand a symptom called an extracampine hallucination, which is the sense of a presence beside or behind you even when there’s nothing or nobody there. So, unlike visual hallucinations, the presence can only be sensed or felt, not seen.

Everything the community shared will help researchers develop a new tool to better measure this type of hallucination and alert doctors and care teams to ask about this symptom earlier rather than later. Read the results here.

What’s ORE all about again? 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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Open funding for open science to accelerate ALS research: An interview with Prize4Life CEO Shay Rishoni

Posted January 6th, 2015 by

Just about a year ago, we teamed up with Sage Bionetworks and TED Fellow Dr. Max Little for an ongoing Parkinson’s disease (PD) project called the Patient Voice Analysis (PVA).

 

The big idea: combine data from two sources – phone-based voice recordings and patient reported data from PatientsLikeMe’s Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (PDRS). Then, make the de-identified data sets available to the broader research community on Sage Bionetworks’ cloud-based computational research platform (http://www.synapse.org) to develop new tools to track PD disease progression.

We were overwhelmed by the response from the PatientsLikeMe PD community. More than 650 members provided 851 voice samples, and 779 of those were matched to the PDRS symptom data entered.

 

What’s next for open science?

Sage Bionetworks is working with the distributed DREAM community and ALS non-profit Prize4Life on another open science challenge alongside called the ALS Stratification DREAM Challenge. How does it all fit together?

The “Fund the Prize” campaign is the first of its kind effort to make the path for accelerating drug development completely open – the patient data is open access, the research is open, global and collaborative, and the funding is crowd-based.

The ALS Stratification Challenge, opening in Spring 2015, will be a worldwide cloud-based competition designed to spur the development of quantitative solutions that can identify which ALS patients’ disease will progress rapidly and which will progress more slowly. Prize4Life provides the largest ALS clinical trials database in the world. Sage Bionetworks and DREAM have created a synergistic competition concept and cloud-based computing platform that includes forums, webinars and a “leaderboard” that shows whose model is working best.

The individual or team with the best solution wins the prize – a $37,000 donation that the Challenge is asking everyone to help raise through the INDIEGOGO “Fund The Prize” campaign. The prize will help incentivize innovators from around the world to take part, and 100% of every donation goes towards the prize.

Helping spread the word

Prize4Life CEO Shay Rishoni is a 48 year-old dad of two boys and was an Ironman triathlete before being diagnosed with ALS in August 2011. Within three months he saw his ability to use his arms weaken considerably while no other body parts were affected. Less than two years later he was completely paralyzed and breathing with a ventilator. We caught up with him to help spread the word and learn more about the Challenge, why he thinks the prize is so important and why he works so hard.

Can you tell us a little about your own journey with ALS?

I was diagnosed with ALS 3.5 years ago, when I was 45 years old, a CEO of a company, an Ironman, a pilot, a military colonel (in res.) and a family man with two young sons. Given all of that, receiving a diagnosis of ALS was of course not what I had planned! But I knew that like everything else in life, I will make sure to stay true to myself and my values nonetheless- to stay positive, active and entrepreneurial. That meant in my public life to fight for the development of treatments- and a cure!- for ALS, for current patients like me, but mostly for future patients. In my private life, as a husband, as a friend and as a father to fight to feel and know that Life is Good, and winning is a way of life. Although by now I am fully paralyzed, I believe that as long as I dream up plans and then work to make them happen, I am invincible.

You can see more of me explaining it in this video of my TED talk.

How did you become involved with Prize4Life and the ALS Stratification Dream Challenge?

I first learned about Prize4Life from its founder, Avi Kremer, who is also an ALS patient. Avi was diagnosed with ALS 10 years ago, as a 29 years old Harvard Business school student striving to make finding a cure for ALS a viable business. He was the recipient of the 2011 Israeli Prime minister award for innovation and entrepreneurship in the non-profit sector. I was inspired by his strength, courage and sophistication, and with Prize4Life model and important work and I knew that this is a framework with which I will do important meaningful things for ALS research, and I become the CEO in 2013.

One such important thing is the ALS Stratification Dream challenge. I think it’s a unique and highly innovative initiative. From a patient perspective it addresses a critical question- How can patients with a rare disease create meaningful solutions for their own illness? And the answer is by engaging as many stakeholders as possible. The “Fund the Prize” campaign is the first of its kind effort to make the path for accelerating drug development completely open- the patient data is open access, the research is open, global and collaborative, and the funding is crowd-based. It builds on Prize4Life’s database of ALS patients- the largest ALS clinical trials database in the world. Sage Bionetworks and DREAM, our collaborators, have created a synergistic competition concept and cloud-based computing platform to allow a planetary republic to use the data. Together we will get computational solutions that will tell us why patients are so diverse- from Lou Gehrig’s succumbing to the disease within two years to Stephen Hawking’s 50 years odyssey with ALS. The Challenge, opening in Spring, 2015, will be a worldwide cloud-based competition designed to spur the development of computer algorithms that effectively predict which ALS patients will experience rapid disease progression and which patients will live longer.

Why do you think the prize model is so important?

Prize4Life’s prize model is inspired by similar programs such as X-prize for space travel, demonstrated to foster meaningful research. These programs allow bringing awareness and new minds into a field and generate measurable results for well-defined goals. Prize4Life wants to bring all these benefits to ALS- awareness, new minds and measurable, highly needed, results.

Prize4Life aspires to span broad fields of innovation for their importance for ALS: we gave a $1M prize for a medical device that serves as a biomarker for ALS, another prize for developing algorithms that can predict disease progression and we are running a prize for a druggable cure. We believe that biologists, chemists, engineers, clinicians, software developers and all citizen scientists can bring a meaningful change in ALS.

Prize4Life and DREAM have already demonstrated the power of open Challenges to advance ALS disease research. The first ALS Challenge, conducted in 2012 when Prize4Life’s open ALS patient database contained data from about 1,000 patients, leveraged insights from over 1,000 solvers from 63 countries to identify novel methods that have the potential to reduce the costs of ALS drug development by millions of dollars. The winning approaches are now being used in the development of several ALS treatments, and are described in a recent article in Nature Biotechnology (here is coverage by Science news).

Why do you work so hard?

Because I have a lot to accomplish. (“If not me than who? If not now than when?”) ALS is still an orphan disease, still is relatively unknown, and we still see tremendous potential to realize- computer scientists can create solutions for better treatments and care, engineers can create better assistive technology, biologists can create better drugs… I believe everyone can be part of the victory over ALS.

What’s one thing about ALS that you think everyone should know?

That we, the ALS patients, even when we can no longer speak, still have a voice. That we still have big dreams and still work to make them happen, and if enough people will work together, we will win the fight over ALS.

…and that ALS patients can love and be loved.

How do you see open science evolving in the future?

I think open science will only become more important in fostering innovative research ideas from diverse communities. It will allow everyone to be part of the solutions, and that means many more solutions!

Where can someone make a donation to help fund the prize?

“Fund the Prize- Solving ALS Together” is a crowdfunding campaign (running now on Indiegogo.com) and intended to provide the prize money for the Challenge and thereby to bring together renowned scientists worldwide and drive innovation. The crowdfunding will run until January 22, 2015.

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2014 recap – a year of sharing in the PatientsLikeMe community

Posted December 23rd, 2014 by

Another year has come and gone here at PatientsLikeMe, and as we started to look back at who’s shared their experiences, we were quite simply amazed. More than 30 members living with 9 different conditions opened up for a blog interview in 2014. But that’s just the start. Others have shared about their health journeys in short videos and even posted about their favorite food recipes.

A heartfelt thanks to everyone who shared their experiences this year – the PatientsLikeMe community is continuing to change healthcare for good, and together, we can help each other live better as we move into 2015.

Team of Advisors
In September, we announced the first-ever PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors, a group of 14 members that will work with us this year on research-related initiatives. They’ve been giving regular feedback about how PatientsLikeMe research can be even more helpful, including creating a “guide” that highlights new standards for researchers to better engage with patients. We introduced everyone to three so far, and look forward to highlighting the rest of team in 2015.

  • Meet Becky – Becky is a former family nurse practitioner, and she’s a medically retired flight nurse who is living with epilepsy and three years out of treatment for breast cancer.
  • Meet Lisa – Lisa was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) in 2008, and just recently stopped working as a full-time executive due to non-motor PD symptoms like loss of function, mental fatigue and daytime insomnolence. Her daughter was just married in June.
  • Meet Dana – Dana is a poet and screenplay writer living in New Jersey and a very active member of the mental health and behavior forum. She’s living with bipolar II, and she’s very passionate about fighting the stigma of mental illness.

The Patient Voice
Five members shared about their health journeys in short video vignettes.

  • Garth – After Garth was diagnosed with cancer, he made a promise to his daughter Emma: he would write 826 napkin notes so she had one each day in her lunch until she graduated high school.
  • Letitia – has been experiencing seizures since she was ten years old, and she turned to others living with epilepsy on PatientsLikeMe.
  • Bryan – Bryan passed away earlier in 2014, but his memory lives on through the data he shared about idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. He was also an inaugural member of the Team of Advisors.
  • Becca – Becca shared her experiences with fibromyalgia and how she appreciates her support on PatientsLikeMe.
  • Ed – Ed spoke about his experiences with Parkinson’s disease and why he thinks it’s all a group effort.

Patient interviews
More than 30 members living with 9 different conditions shared their stories in blog interviews.

Members living with PTSD:

  • David Jurado spoke in a Veteran’s podcast about returning home and life after serving
  • Lucas shared about recurring nightmares, insomnia and quitting alcohol
  • Jess talked about living with TBI and her invisible symptoms
  • Jennifer shared about coping with triggers and leaning on her PatientsLikeMe community

Member living with Bipolar:

  • Eleanor wrote a three-part series about her life with Bipolar II – part 1, part 2, part 3

Members living with MS:

  • Fred takes you on a visual journey through his daily life with MS
  • Anna shared about the benefits of a motorized scooter, and a personal poem
  • Ajcoia, Special1, and CKBeagle shared how they raise awareness through PatientsLikeMeInMotion™
  • Nola and Gary spoke in a Podcast on how a PatientsLikeMe connection led to a new bathroom
  • Tam takes you into a day with the private, invisible pain of MS
  • Debbie shared what it’s like to be a mom and blogger living with MS
  • Shep spoke about keeping his sense of humor through his journey with MS
  • Kim shared about her fundraising efforts through PatientsLikeMeInMotion™
  • Jazz1982 shared how she eliminates the stigma surrounding MS
  • Starla talked about MS awareness and the simple pleasure of riding a motorcycle

Members living with Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis:

Members living with Parkinson’s disease:

  • Dropsies shared about her frustrating Parkinson’s diagnosis experience and how diabetes might impact her future eating habits

Members living with ALS:

  • Steve shared the story behind his film, “My Motor Neuron Disease Made Easier”
  • Steven shared how technology allows him to participate in many events
  • Steve shared about creating the Steve Saling ALS residence and dealing with paramedics
  • Steve told why he participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge
  • Dee revealed her tough decision to insert a feeding tube
  • John shared about his cross-country road trip with his dog, Molly

Members living with lung cancer:

  • Vickie shared about her reaction to getting diagnosed, the anxiety-filled months leading up to surgery and what recovery was like post-operation
  • Phil shared the reaction she had after her blunt diagnosis, her treatment options and her son’s new tattoo

Members living with multiple myeloma:

  • AbeSapien shared about his diagnosis experience with myeloma, the economic effects of his condition and his passion for horseback riding

Caregiver for a son living with AKU:

  • Alycia and Nate shared Alycia’s role and philosophy as caregiver to young Nate, who is living with AKU

Food for Thought
Many members shared their recipes and diet-related advice on the forums in 2014.

  • April – first edition, and what you’re making for dinner
  • May – nutrition questions and the primal blueprint
  • June – getting sleepy after steak and managing diet
  • July – chocolate edition
  • August – losing weight and subbing carbs
  • September – fall weather and autumn recipes
  • Dropsies – shared her special diabetes recipes for Diabetes Awareness Month

Patients as Partners
More than 6,000 members answered questions about their health and gave feedback on the PatientsLikeMe Open Research Exchange (ORE) platform. ORE gives patients the chance to not only check an answer box, but also share their opinion about each question in a researcher’s health measure. It’s all about collaborating with patients as partners to create the most effective tools for measuring disease.

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