13 posts tagged “Rare diseases”

Getting to know our Team of Advisors – Steve

Posted May 29th, 2015 by

A few weeks ago, Amy shared about living with a rare genetic disease in her Team of Advisors introduction post. Today, it’s Steve’s turn to share about his unique perspective as a scientist who has been diagnosed with ALS. Below, learn about Steve’s experience with ALS research, his views on patient centeredness and what being a part of the Team of Advisors means to him.

About Steve (aka rezidew):
Steve is a professor of Developmental Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was diagnosed with ALS in the fall of 2013 and his symptoms have progressed with increased debilitating weakness in his arms and hands. He was excited to join us as an advisor to lend his expertise on research methodology to the team. He has authored or coauthored an impressive 6 books, 91 peer reviewed publications, and 26 published chapters. When we talked about giving a background on research methods to the team, Steve said ‘I can teach it.’ He is passionate about helping teach others and believes “as a scientist who has been diagnosed with ALS, I regret having this disorder but I am eager to use my unique perspective to promote and possibly conduct relevant research.”

Steve’s view of patient centeredness:
“The obvious perspective is that patients should have some voice in decisions regarding what research should be conducted, what the participants in research should be expected to do, how participants in research should be selected, and how results of research should be communicated.”

Steve on being part of the Team of Advisors:
“Being a member of the Team of Advisors has helped me understand a wide array of perspectives on patient-centered research based on my interaction with fellow patients who have various health problems and who have various levels of knowledge about research. I am impressed with the consensual consolidation that has emerged from the Team’s dialogue about research.”

Steve’s experience with bibrachial ALS and research on ALS:
“A diagnosis of ALS can be associated with several different configurations of symptoms. Some PALS (Patients with ALS) begin with problems in their feet and legs, some begin with difficulty talking and/or swallowing, and some, like me, begin with weakness in their hands and arms. Also, some PALS start relatively young and have other PALS in their family. And, some PALS have dementia. We all lose our ability to breathe eventually and our array of symptoms broadens, but our initial experience can be very different. I am surprised and disappointed that the medical community has not done more to identify our subtypes and to track our progression within our subtype.

Developing a PALS taxonomy would help doctors provide support to PALS that is most relevant to our needs. It would also help us share our experience with fellow patients and learn from each other. An ALS taxonomy would also be extremely relevant for research on treatments. Ongoing research on ALS using rodents with SOD1 mutations may yield an effective treatment someday, but for now PALS would feel more supportive of this research if it used models that reflect the different taxonomies of ALS. We would feel even more supportive if more research allowed us to participate in studies that focus directly on medicines that could help our ongoing progressive terminal illness.”

More about the 2014 Team of Advisors
They’re a group of 14 PatientsLikeMe members who will give feedback on research initiatives and create new standards that will help all researchers understand how to better engage with patients like them. They’ve already met one another in person, and over the next 12 months, will give feedback to our own PatientsLikeMe Research Team. They’ll also be working together to develop and publish a guide that outlines standards for how researchers can meaningfully engage with patients throughout the entire research process.

So where did we find our 2014 Team? We posted an open call for applications in the forums, and were blown away by the response! The Team includes veterans, nurses, social workers, academics and advocates; all living with different conditions.

Share this post on Twitter and help spread the word for ALS.


Getting to know our Team of Advisors – Amy

Posted May 13th, 2015 by

We’re been introducing the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors on the blog over the past 6 months, and today, we’re happy to announce Amy, a member living with a rare genetic disease called Fabry. Below, she shares about the importance of being aware of patients as individuals, and how she’s learned to live (and thrive!) with Fabry.

About Amy (aka meridiansb):
Amy is currently on the Patient Advisory Board for Amicus Therapeutics where she serves as a patient voice for researchers as they work to develop a new drug for Fabry Disease. Amy is a great champion to have in your corner, with a self-reported ‘wicked sense of humor’, and passion for connecting others to the right resources and information. She has experience advocating for others as a medical social worker, and believes in the importance of getting to know a patient population, writing materials that they can relate to, and understanding how managing their condition fits into their life as a whole. Her tip for researchers and healthcare professionals: “Remember, not everyone fits into neat categories. Those that fall outside of what’s typical can be an invaluable resource when researching a particular condition.”

Amy on patient centeredness:
“Patient-centeredness means that above all else, you have an awareness of the patient as a unique human being, because diseases don’t exist on their own, they happen to people. It means not always doing what is easiest for the doctor or researcher, but what is appropriate for the individual. It means being open-minded and adaptable, not everyone fits in a neat little box. It means not treating people like they are stupid just because they don’t have a medical degree. People know their own bodies, and live with their condition day in and day out and if doctors and researchers don’t listen they can miss crucial information that can help many. These days people have access to a lot of information, and they want to be treated like partners in their care not problems to be solved seen only through the filter of illness, and certainly not like a nuisance because they have an opinion about things.”

Amy on the Team of Advisors:
“Being a member of the Team of Advisors at PLM has been an incredible experience. Having had to quit school and work due to illness, I felt at times that everything I had achieved was for nothing and that I had nothing to offer to this world, which was beyond discouraging. Being a part of the Team of Advisors has given me a meaningful way to use my knowledge and experience to help shape the way physicians and researchers interact with patients. The first time I sat in a room with the team and the wonderful people at PLM I felt a sense of hopefulness that it was all happening for a reason. It taught me that even when your path is diverted by something out of your control, you can find a new path; there is good to be found in every circumstance even when you can’t see it right away. I feel lucky to have served on the Team of Advisors with such a diverse and passionate group of people.”

Amy on having a rare disease:
“Having any illness can be confusing and overwhelming, but when 95% of the doctors you see haven’t even heard of your disease, it can be exasperating and daunting. Having a rare genetic disease, Fabry, has presented me with an even greater need to advocate for myself and others with my same condition. I’m lucky enough to have a background working in hospitals as a medical social worker, so I am no stranger to advocacy and I have no problem speaking up; but this isn’t the case for everyone. Upon my mom’s diagnosis, and then my own, I quickly jumped onto message boards and support groups for Fabry, only to find there are many more questions than answers. I am lucky to have access to a geneticist that is familiar with Fabry, but most people don’t. Because our disease is so rare, many people are hundreds of miles from anyone else with Fabry. In person support groups aren’t really an option, so the internet and learning from each other on social media is crucial. I spend a lot of my time gathering questions from other people with Fabry and working them into my appointments, then reporting back to the message boards. Others do the same, and together we find our way to new tools to manage our lives with Fabry, new things to ask our doctor’s about, and new resources to call upon in trying to figure out this disease. In addition, I try to support others in being assertive with their doctors. I think we have been deeply conditioned in our society to respect authority and education, which is not inherently bad, but it can create an obstacle to honest communication with our health care professionals. It can be really intimidating! You try telling a person with 8-12 years of medical education and years of practice experience that you would like to teach them about a medical condition they don’t already know about! Some egos are better equipped than others to handle the learning curve required in having me as a patient. I ask a lot of questions and I expect good information in return. I always come from a respectful place, as I don’t expect every physician to know about Fabry, but I expect them to be open to learning about it. Some are more than willing and some aren’t and I’ve had to “break up” with my fair share of doctors who weren’t willing. But really, if they don’t care to continue growing as a provider, then I don’t really want them as my doctor anyway. So really, you have nothing to lose by setting high standards for your providers. But you have a lot to lose by remaining in the care of a doctor that wants to treat you like everyone else. You are not just like everyone else! You can miss out on valuable information that can seriously affect your care. So speak up, be respectful, but be assertive. And if you don’t feel that your needs are being met, cut your losses and find someone that does. You are the only one that can make those decisions for yourself! And if you need some moral support, just message me!”

More about the 2014 Team of Advisors
They’re a group of 14 PatientsLikeMe members who will give feedback on research initiatives and create new standards that will help all researchers understand how to better engage with patients like them. They’ve already met one another in person, and over the next 12 months, will give feedback to our own PatientsLikeMe Research Team. They’ll also be working together to develop and publish a guide that outlines standards for how researchers can meaningfully engage with patients throughout the entire research process.

So where did we find our 2014 Team? We posted an open call for applications in the forums, and were blown away by the response! The Team includes veterans, nurses, social workers, academics and advocates; all living with different conditions.

Share this post on Twitter and help spread the word for Fabry and rare diseases.


PatientsLikeMe in real life: Reporting back from RARE Patient Advocacy Summit

Posted October 4th, 2013 by

I was in Newport Beach, CA with one of our founders Ben Heywood, Brad Gescheider from partner marketing, and 125+ caregivers, researchers, patients, and advocates—including a member of PatientsLikeMe! MS member since 2010 slowmo_tam joined me for a day full of tips on patient advocacy, empowerment, and collaboration at the RARE Patient Advocacy Summit.

Ben was on a panel discussion about connecting communities online, which was a hot topic of the day, along with patient registries, and putting patients and their families first. @bheywood joined Kyle Brown of @patientregistry, @ThePatientsSide of @caresync, and @bar2bar2 to share about how open and patient-centric registries with information that all stakeholders care about—physicians, patients, researchers, caregivers—are better for research. Partnering expands resources to support a robust and large registries, and listening to what patients and families are saying creates a better set of information. Here’s a cool doodle from @dianedurand with a summary of the panel:

RARE

Collaboration is not only key when it comes to open registries, we learned on another panel with @billstrong of @gsfoundation, John of @Child_Neurology, @keeganj of @fpwr, and Sue of @TaySachs. Collaboration is also important for nonprofits and people thinking about starting a nonprofit. It’s not a zero sum game: when nonprofits collaborate, they can achieve more, together. Having a defined mission and clear intentions helps to define roles of each advocate and nonprofit. Here’s another doodle recap of that session.

The highlight of my day was definitely spending time with PatientsLikeMe member slowmo_tam. She has a wonderful presence in our MS community, and getting to know her in real life was a lot of fun. She said to me after the event “I feel like I’ve known you forever”—which certainly is the case. Online relationships are great, but there’s something special about putting a face to a name/screenname.

Lots of great energy and ideas from the patient advocacy summit. Thank you Global Genes | RARE Project for bringing us all together!

PatientsLikeMe member LizMorgan


Keith & Sarah’s personal journey with rare lung disease. Part III, “Bonus round”

Posted June 22nd, 2013 by

Over the last few months, Keith and Sarah have been sharing their journey with us. In this final interview of our three-part series, they talk about how he got on a transplant list and their “phones at the dinner table” policy. If you missed our first two interviews with Keith and Sarah, you can find them here.

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What did you have to do to get on a transplant list? Did you have to meet certain criteria?
[Keith] The transplant assessment process is an intense and very time-consuming one. When you are contacted about being assessed for transplant, you are sent a large envelope listing out a weeks worth of testing, doctors visits, and appointments in Toronto at Toronto General Hospital. The hospital evaluates you on many things, and ultimately if you are deemed “healthy” enough (because you can actually be too sick, or too healthy) as a result of this testing, you are placed on the list. There were psychological assessments, nuclear cardiac testing, liver testing, kidney testing, pulmonary function testing, physical testing, blood tests (LOTS of blood tests) to name a few.

Can you talk about your “phones at the dinner table” policy and how it changed?
[Sarah] Phones allowed at the dinner table. Most families discourage this, as it is always nice to have the family come together at the end of the day and talk about their day. The one time when people are tuned to each other as opposed to their devices! Once Keith was placed on the list, we were waiting for that call to come which would signal the next phase of our life. This meant that our phones were even MORE attached to us, and yes, were placed on the dinner table until that call came.

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How are you doing post transplant?
[Keith] I feel fantastic! Being able to breathe with deep breaths every minute has been the most life changing experience for me. I am still sifting through a bit of a fog with some pain medications but as they are reduced, I find myself feeling more and more enthusiastic about what lies ahead. Each day is a gift, and I am enjoying my “bonus round.” The realities of transplant are such that we never know what tomorrow will bring, so I am living my life to the fullest every day that I am here.

What’s the one thing you both think every rare lung disease patient should know?
[Sarah & Keith] There is hope. With awareness we can educate people on the necessity to be organ donors, which can ultimately get rid of the list! The transplant program at Toronto General is exceptional and if you do what they tell you, take care of yourself and do your physio…there truly is hope for a better life with new lungs. The hospital’s goal is to help you through your disease in any way possible, and transplant is the last option, but if you need it, this is the place to be.

Sarah and Keith are part of our “Spotlighted Blogger” series, where we talk with people who are sharing their personal health experiences to help raise awareness and change healthcare for good. Sarah started blogging about her fiancé Keith’s journey with a rare lung disease back in July of 2012 on her blog Taking a Deep Breath.


Keith & Sarah’s personal journey with rare lung disease. Part I, “Fine”

Posted April 18th, 2013 by

As part of our “Spotlighted Blogger” series, we’re talking with people who are sharing their personal health experiences to help raise awareness of disease and change healthcare for good. For our latest interview, we’re talking with Sarah and Keith. Sarah started writing about her fiancé Keith’s journey with a rare lung disease back in July of 2012 on her blog Taking a Deep Breath. In this first part of our three-part series, Keith and Sarah talk about why they started blogging, and the difficulties of finding the right diagnosis.

Keith:Sarah1

What prompted you to start blogging about Keith’s journey and what’s the reaction been? 

[Sarah] When Keith’s health took a turn for the worse in the winter of 2011, I asked him repeatedly if he would allow me to share his story, knowing that we were likely going down a very difficult road, and selfishly wanting lots of support while we (I) went down that road. He wasn’t comfortable sharing until the day we drove away from his respirologist’s office, after an appointment where the doctor said that Keith was “fine,” wasn’t a candidate for transplant, and didn’t need to be on oxygen. We knew different. I blogged, we got a second opinion, and Keith was on oxygen within 4 days, and referred to the transplant program at Toronto General Hospital (TGH) within 2 weeks.

At what point did you know that something was not right? What was your first symptom?
[Keith] I got a cold that wouldn’t go away, and it turned into a pneumonia. I was hospitalized in the fall/winter of 1997. I never fully recovered.

What was involved in finding a diagnosis? Did Keith ever receive an official diagnosis?
[Sarah] Keith visited various specialists and respirologists and was misdiagnosed with various diseases (BOOP {bronchiolitis obliterans organizing pneumonia}, COPD, asthma) before the final diagnosis of diffuse panbronchiolitis (DPB) was given. It was a strange diagnosis since the disease strikes people of Asian descent, and Keith is Caucasian. DNA testing was done to see if there was Asian blood in his makeup, but there was not. Interestingly enough, in the final pathology of Keith’s old lungs after removal – this diagnosis was confirmed.

What advice do you both have for patients that are struggling to find a diagnosis? 
[Sarah & Keith] Ask as many people as you can who have experience with lung disease, or know someone who has it. Find out doctors’ names, get referrals and stick to your guns. If you don’t feel right, tell someone!


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


Bringing PatientsLikeMe into the Doctor’s Office: An Interview with Pediatrician Dr. Jim King

Posted August 20th, 2012 by

You may recall that in July we shared a video about Doctors 2.0 and You, a conference focused on how physicians are using web 2.0 technology.  Today we’d like to present a real-life example of this concept: Dr. Jim King, MSc, MD, FRCPC.  A pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) in Ottawa, Dr. King runs a number of different clinics for rare diseases.  He also serves as the hospital’s Medical Director for Informatics.  Find out how he has used PatientsLikeMe as part of his practice and much more in our interview below.

Dr. Jim King, MSc, MD, FRCPC, Medical Director for Informatics and Pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO)

1. How did PatientsLikeMe come to your attention?

We were doing a presentation a number of years ago, in 2006 I guess. We were talking about a number of things, but more specifically the use of mobile technology in healthcare and research as well as personal health records. So we were sort of working up some information and then we came across PatientsLikeMe. We were basically looking at some of the business models around personal health records, specifically around Microsoft Vault and Google Health and those things, and we thought PatientsLikeMe had a little bit of a different spin.

2. As a pediatrician, how have you used PatientsLikeMe?

I specifically used it in one of my clinics. I follow a number of teenagers that have orthostatic intolerance and also chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia and other conditions related to orthostatic intolerance. I get a lot of questions about different medications. The families are very well versed in information and are always looking for new sites to visit. So I will often direct them to PatientsLikeMe. You can find sites with support groups, but you never really know how many people are involved. Then people are going online and looking up things by themselves. But I felt that all the information being presented back through PatientsLikeMe was pretty good.

One example was a 16-year-old patient with fibromyalgia. Their family doctor had recommended she take gabapentin based on a news article. So in the past, and even currently, one of the ways I would look at this situation and get as much information as possible would be to go on sites like PubMed or Bandolier, the Oxford site in the UK, and try to pull together what worked and what didn’t work. Some of these sites are pretty good because often they will tell you what the positive outcome is. But one of the difficulties is that they don’t always tell you what the adverse affects are.

Side Effects Reported by PatientsLikeMe Member for the Medication Gabapentin

It was nice because I sat down with this patient and we pulled up PatientsLikeMe. And I think at that time there were a couple hundred patients that had been on gabapentin and the actual number that had side affects, I’m just recalling now from a few years ago, was equivalent or slightly greater than the amount who had actually benefited from the medication. So we made a decision at that time not to actually go on gabapentin. Instead, we tried some other things. It was very helpful in my daily stream of care to be able to do that.

3.  We have a large community of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) patients at PatientsLikeMe. What are some of the challenges for adolescents with these conditions?

There are multiple challenges. I think the first challenge is that it’s really an undefined condition. There isn’t a specific diagnostic test, so labeling is a bit of a challenge. Sometimes it takes time for people to understand the impact. And, it’s the same as any chronic illness that doesn’t have overt physical symptoms. You know, everyone looks normal but they feel terrible. When you’re feeling bad all the time physically, or a lot of the time physically, that can make you feel unwell mentally. So having a place where you can go to actually hear that and learn how other people are coping and dealing with it is a big benefit. It certainly shouldn’t hurt, right? And there can be some pretty positive effects from having a community as well.

We are making a diagnosis based on a constellation of symptoms so there are probably a lot of different disorders or a lot of different reasons why someone has a diagnosis of chronic fatigue. So because it’s such a heterogeneous group, there are going to be a lot of different management and therapeutic approaches. So, you really need a large number of people to start understanding what’s working and what’s not working. And again, compiling and pulling that information together is quite beneficial.

4.  Do you have any thoughts on how large online data sets at PatientsLikeMe or other websites could shape the future of healthcare?

You can’t manage what you can’t measure, right? That’s quite obvious. So, if we can do better measurements along knowing what your population is, but have something on what the actual outcomes are, that should be beneficial in the long run. It’s like anything. You have to know your population really well. And if you can define your population really well, then these large data sets, and I would say sites like PatientsLikeMe, can be quite powerful. It is a definite movement and force going forward, for sure. You need thoughtful stewardship for this, and you need a thoughtful ability to analyze the data and make clinical sense from it.

5.  Anything else you want to add about PatientsLikeMe?

For me, there are two other things.  First, the actual connections for people from sites like this are quite important – you know, the support group piece. And also you will have people with multiple problems and they may be doing something that seems to be a bit unique but is beneficial. Also, say you have a condition which is rare and there are only a couple of hundred cases in the world. You learn so much more when you start connecting and you find that maybe a problem, like fever, is a normal part of the illness and people just haven’t gotten together to figure it out. Being able to share that information relieves a lot of stress for families – we hate the unknown – and is quite powerful.

Second is the explosion in clinical information, especially the way things are going with genetics, molecular biology and bioinformatics. The ability to be diagnosed or know your risk and response to treatment with one or multiple diseases based on your genetic material is fantastic.  While there is tremendous potential, this is extremely complex and what we are going to see is that our phenotypes, our observable characteristics or traits, may or may not match our genotypes, the inherited instructions within our genetic code. I think sites that can link large groups are going to become more powerful.

So, as we are pulling all those things together, it will be important to have a source where you can actually be able to make sense of it and make it a lot easier to get some prognosis for guidance for people about what’s going to happen. Because a lot of times, you’re sort of in the dark with a lot of uncertainty for some conditions. So I think pulling that information together can be quite powerful and liberating.


Recognizing Multiple System Atrophy (MSA) Awareness Month

Posted March 20th, 2012 by

In observing Rare Disease Day at the end of February, we talked how there are 7,000+ conditions that are categorized as rare diseases due to their lower prevalence (less than 200,000 people in the US).  Today we’d like to spotlight one of these lesser-known conditions:  multiple system atrophy (MSA), which affects 536 PatientsLikeMe members and approximately 50,000 Americans.

A Snapshot of the MSA Community at PatientsLikeMe

There are no celebrities with MSA, nor is there a high-profile nonprofit organization driving awareness of the disease.  Instead, MSA patients have organized themselves through a “Miracles for MSA” Facebook page and determined grassroots efforts.  They’ve also designated March as Multiple System Atrophy Awareness Month.  Their goal?  “We want to reach everyone affected by MSA and have them join us here to make our voices even louder next year.  Together, we can make miracles happen for MSA.”

What can you do to help?  Learn about MSA and help spread the word.  Previously known as Shy-Drager Syndrome, MSA affects middle-aged men and women and advances rapidly with a progressive loss of motor skills.  It is very rare for someone to live 15 years with MSA.  One of the common symptoms is stiffness, similar to what’s seen in Parkinson’s disease.  As a result, MSA is considered a “Parkinson’s plus syndrome,” but it does not typically respond to Parkinson’s treatments.

See MSA’s devastating symptoms firsthand – including losing the ability to speak and swallow solid foods – in this moving YouTube video made by the daughter of a MSA patient.  It’s been entered in the 2012 Neuro Film Festival from the American Academy of Neurology, with winners to be announced April 22, 2012.


Rare Disease Day: Together, We Can Do More

Posted February 29th, 2012 by

All Around the World, People Are Observing Rare Disease Day Today

Today is the fifth annual observation of Rare Disease Day, an international event recognized in more than 50 countries.  (Learn about US activities here, including a day of lobbying on Capitol Hill for the ULTRA Act, which aims to stimulate the development of treatments for rare diseases.)

What’s a rare disease, you ask?  It’s a condition that affects less than 200,000 people in the US – or less than 1 in 2,000 people in Europe.  There are more than 7,000 such disorders (80% of which have identified genetic origins), and collectively, they affect an estimated 350 million people worldwide.  Yet because of the lower prevalence of the individual diseases, they often receive little attention.

The 2012 Rare Disease Day theme is “Solidarity,” highlighting the importance of collaboration and support among patients with rare diseases.  Despite the wide variability of symptoms, patients with rare diseases face many of the same challenges, which may include a difficult diagnosis process, isolation, high cost drugs (if they exist), lack of information and inequities in the availability of treatment and care.

At PatientsLikeMe, we are committed to bringing patients together and speeding up the pace of medical research.  That’s why we partnered with the R.A.R.E Project last November to find and connect one million patients with rare diseases.  “It’s terrifying to think you’re alone and manage your rare illness with a doctor who might not have ever seen another patient like you,” says PatientsLikeMe Co-Founder Jamie Heywood.  “We will change that.”

If you know anyone with a rare disease, please encourage them to join PatientsLikeMe and help create a well-defined patient registry for the benefit of both patients and researchers. Also, PatientsLikeMe members—with or without a rare disease—can show solidarity by following the R.A.R.E Project’s profile.


PATIENTSLIKEME AND R.A.R.E PROJECT UNITE TO FIND AND CONNECT ONE MILLION RARE DISEASE PATIENTS

Posted November 8th, 2011 by

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Nonprofit and “Not Just for Profit” Announce Collaboration at PartneringForCures Event

NEW YORK, NY – November 7, 2011 – Today, PatientsLikeMe and R.A.R.E Project, a nonprofit advocacy and support group for patients with all rare diseases, announce a new partnership to find and connect 1 million rare disease patients to share and learn everything possible about their conditions.  The organizations, co-presenting at the PartneringForCures event today in New York, are launching an international rare disease awareness campaign in 2012.

PatientsLikeMe's New Partner, The R.A.R.E Project

“There are 35 million patients in the U.S. with 7,000+ rare diseases and we want to find them, connect them and support them in sharing and learning by their specific disease and across all rare diseases,” says Dean Suhr, Chief Innovation and Community Development Officer at R.A.R.E.  “We’re excited to work with PatientsLikeMe because their open patient registry allows patients to contribute to research, while getting immediate benefits, like improved quality of life, from sharing this information with others.”

The goal of this collaboration between R.A.R.E and PatientsLikeMe, an online health community that started in 2005 for rare disease patients and is now open to everyone, is to allow for better shared learning and acceleration of discovery by rapidly connecting patients to researchers, companies, nonprofits and patients like them. The partners will combine resources to provide patients with the opportunity to make online and local in-person connections, engage nonprofits and local specialists, and contribute their health data to the open patient registry at PatientsLikeMe. Unlike other registries, PatientsLikeMe allows patients to query the data to compare their medical data to others with similar diseases, symptoms, or therapies so they can also compare their data across other diseases.

“The key to accelerating research for any patients, although particularly powerful for those with rare conditions, is to have efficient access to well characterized patient populations willing to be part of research,” adds Jamie Heywood, Co-founder and Chairman of PatientsLikeMe. “It’s terrifying to think you’re alone and manage your rare illness with a doctor who might not have ever seen another patient like you. We will change that.”

For more about the R.A.R.E Project, including current awareness campaigns, go to: http://rareproject.org.  For patients and nonprofits that want to join PatientsLikeMe, go to http://www.patientslikeme.com.

ABOUT R.A.R.E PROJECT

The R.A.R.E. Project exists to raise rare disease awareness, unify and empower a vibrant global rare disease community, and fund innovations to support ‘in-their-lifetime’ rare disease research.

ABOUT PATIENTSLIKEME

PatientsLikeMe® (www.patientslikeme.com) is the world’s leading online health data sharing platform. PatientsLikeMe® creates new knowledge by charting the real-world course of disease through the shared experiences of patients. While patients interact to help improve their outcomes, the data they provide helps researchers learn how these diseases act in the real world and accelerate the discovery of new, more effective treatments. [Follow company news on www.twitter.com/PatientsLikeMe and http://blog.patientslikeme.com]

PatientsLikeMe member lscanlon


Rare Disease Day 2011: “Rare, But Equal”

Posted February 28th, 2011 by

RDD_whiteFor patients with prevalent diseases, it may be easy to find others with your condition.  You meet them at clinics; you run into them when seeing your specialist; or you participate in one of the support groups in your area.  For those with rare diseases, the simple act of finding another patient like you isn’t always as easy.  You might be the only patient your doctor has seen with your condition.  Finding another patient often becomes a goal and sharing and learning from them a welcomed reward.

Alongside NORD and EURORDIS, we are celebrating Rare Disease Day and they’ve deemed this year’s theme “Rare, but Equal.”  At PatientsLikeMe, patients are patients, no matter what their condition.  Patients with rare diseases are sharing their health information alongside patients with more widespread conditions.

So, who do we have sharing information about their rare disease?  To date, more than 455 patients with Multiple System Atrophy and 122 patients with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, both neurodegenerative disorders that mimic Parkinson’s disease, have joined our community.  Do you have Neuromyelitis Optica, the autoimmune inflammatory disorder affecting the spinal cord, optic nerve, that has lesions often misdiagnosed as multiple sclerosis?  There are 332 patients just like you.  Sharing right alongside these patients you’ll find 388 patients with Progressive Muscular Atrophy (a rare subtype of ALS which only affects the lower motor neurons) and 331 with Primary Lateral Sclerosis (a subtype of ALS which affects the upper motor neurons).

Many of you also know that we actually started PatientsLikeMe focused on the rare neurodegenerative disease, ALS.  Six years later, there are now more than 4,000 ALS patients-plus almost 20% of the newly diagnosed in the U.S. every month-sharing their journeys and learning from one another.  (You can read about highlighted milestones in our 2010 ALS Awareness Month blog.)  In 2011, we’ll continue our heritage of serving those with rare diseases by improving this overall experience of finding a “patient like me.”

There are no major awareness raising pink ribbons or yellow wristbands for these rare diseases.  But, there is a group of patients who have found each other, who are sharing with one another and the world their disease experience.  And, that will translate to accelerated research and better outcomes – two things we are hoping to make a little less rare.

PatientsLikeMe member mcotter


Charting the course of PLS and PMA

Posted August 11th, 2009 by

Primary Lateral Sclerosis (PLS) and Progressive Muscular Atrophy (PMA) are two rare variants of the disease ALS. Normally, ALS affects the upper motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord, as well as the lower motor neurons that send signals from the spinal cord directly to muscles. PLS and PMA are different because PLS only affects the upper motor neurons, and PMA only affects the lower motor neurons. It’s an important distinction for patients to be told about because the prognosis is less severe in these conditions.  On average, survival in ALS is typically reported to be 2-5 years, whereas for patients with PMA it’s more like 5-10 years and for PLS it’s even longer (often several decades).

ALS itself is a rare condition, affecting some 30,000 people in the United States at any one time.  PLS and PMA each represent approximately 5% of the overall ALS community, so there’s approximately 1,500 patients with each condition in the U.S at any given time.  In April 2008, PatientsLikeMe added the ability for members of our ALS community to change their diagnosis to these rare conditions.  To date, we now have 182 patients with PLS and 270 with PMA. This is truly exciting because even the largest studies in the literature have only examined 40 or so PLS patients and a similar number of PMA patients. One of our most useful features on our site for people with ALS is the percentile curves, which we display as a backdrop on their profiles to put each individual’s rate of progression into context. However, as you can see in the figure below, when you compare the progression curves of ALS patients on our site with those of a typical PLS patient, the PLS patient progression deviates significantly from the ALS curves.

pls-patient-on-als-curves_ls2

With so many PLS and PMA patients sharing such valuable information about their disease on PatientsLikeMe, we had enough information to generate a new set of percentile curves for each of those communities.  To do this, we used self-report ALSFRS-R (ALS functional rating score – revised) data from 104 PLS patients and 59 PMA patients that met our criteria for data quality. We have good data for the first 4-5 years of disease after onset, and after that point we rely on linear extrapolation to make the plots.  Here we see the value of openness in action.  When you see the potential value in contributing your data, it drives a virtuous cycle: the more data you enter, the more value you get, so you enter more data!

pma_profile1

As any of our patients in these communities will tell you, being diagnosed with a rare disease can be a frustrating experience. Aside from dealing with the condition itself, there’s the lack of public awareness, a lack of research investigating your condition, and a sense that you are being “lumped in” with a similar disease because your community doesn’t have the critical mass to merit its own attention.  These new percentile curves for PLS and PMA patients demonstrate the value and power of openness.  By sharing their health data in an open fashion, patients are providing new insights that are changing how we think and act when it comes to these very rare conditions.

Note:  A potential limitation of these curves is that they represent the outcomes for patients that are members of PatientsLikeMe and may not be generalizable to the entire population; we are working hard to better understand and correct for the biases in our population and data. As the size and longevity of each community increases, we will be in a better position to address these issues.

PatientsLikeMe member pwicks PatientsLikeMe member tvaughn


Rare Diseases: Well-Done Online

Posted July 17th, 2009 by

There are rare diseases, and there are rare diseases. Here at PatientsLikeMe our first community was built for patients with ALS (estimated US Prevalence: 30,000), and in common with our other neurological communities there is a familiar list of challenges: low public awareness, little funding for research, and a lack of adequate treatments. However, over the past year or so I’ve really had my eyes opened to the differences between “rare” and what you might call “super-rare” conditions, such as Devic’s neuromyelitis optica. Nobody really knows how many people Devic’s affects as it is frequently confused with MS, but there are probably only a few thousand patients with this condition in the world. That’s why we’re incredibly proud that our Devic’s community currently has 136 registered patients sharing health data with one another; that’s more than 5 times larger than the largest study I’ve seen on the condition in the scientific literature (which included collaborators from around the world in seven specialist centers over the course of several years).

I was privileged to be invited to speak at the annual meeting of Eurordis (The European Organization for Rare Diseases) in Athens, Greece, to meet with some of the leading online health efforts in this space. Attendees included non-profit organizations, medical professionals, and patients themselves from all over Europe.  We all convened to discuss some of the most innovative tools available on the web for patients to find other patients like them, share their data, and improve their outcomes. PatientsLikeMe was featured as an ambitious and innovative effort to accelerate the pace of research in rare diseases but we also saw great initiatives that had come from the frontlines of rare diseases.  In fact, the point about ultra-rare diseases was driven home in the opening keynote by Yann Le Cam when we heard that there are some 5,500 rare diseases cataloged by Orphanet (including Devic’s) which are not in the ICD-10 taxonomy of diseases. Ultimately, at PatientsLikeMe, our goal is to build a community for every life-changing illness that exists, but what can patients with these conditions be looking for in the meantime?

paulathens-video

The highlight of the meeting for me was seeing the incredible work being carried out at Duchenne Connect.org (The Netherlands) and Duchenne Connect.org (USA). Founders Elizabeth Vroom and Pat Furlong gave an overview of their experiences building patient-focused programs that allowed parents of children with Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy to support one another, accelerate the efforts of researchers, and bring greater attention and focus to patients affected by this rare disease. From the other side of the Atlantic, Mary Dunkle from NORD (National Organization for Rare Diseases) made a clear statement that online communities have the power to be far more than just bulletin boards and blogs for patients to use for emotional support. In her presentation, she stated: “We want to move beyond simply providing emotional support…to facilitate action that produces results”; we couldn’t agree more. Videos of the talks from these amazing patient advocates (along with many other talks from the meeting) can be viewed online here at the Eurordis website.

There were a number of challenges that were highlighted during the meeting. David Golub was the first to articulate that there are serious ethical issues implicit in for-profit companies (like us!) being involved in patient research that was traditionally the remit of academics and clinicians. He asked us to all consider what we can all do to “protect the public commons?”. Unsurprisingly for a European audience, there was much concern about language specialization.  Patient advocates insisted on better localization to allow broader access to non-English speakers, and for providers like us trying to find innovative ways to ensure excellent content that can be dynamic and accessible for all. My own view is that technology (like Google Translate) will outpace any system we could possibly resource with human translators.

Finally, there was the question put to us by event organizer Denis Costello from Eurordis; how can small non-profits in ultra-rare diseases partner with organizations like PatientsLikeMe?  It’s something we think about every day. Our Devic’s community came out of our MS Community; PSP and MSA came from Parkinson’s; and PLS and PMA came out of ALS. We are developing strategies to build communities for “clusters” of communities that will allow us help a broader swathe of patients with both prevalent and rare conditions. It was hugely encouraging to see the energy, ingenuity, and determination that you see when advocates are passionate about helping patients.