14 posts tagged “Paul Wicks PhD”

Subjects no more: what happens when trial participants realize they hold the power in clinical trials?

Posted February 18th, 2014 by

When I first became involved with online communities back in 2002, I moderated a small forum for patients with ALS/MND in the UK at King’s College Hospital to connect with one another, share tips and support, and to help our care center to serve them better. One area that remains controversial even to this day is clinical trials. ALS is a rapidly fatal and incurable illness, and as a young researcher I was often trying to field questions that patients had about the trials process:

“Why aren’t there more trials taking place?”

“Why do we have to have a placebo?”

“If researchers think commonly available treatments like dietary supplements or antibiotics might slow my disease, why can’t I just take them anyway rather than being enrolled in a trial?”

Given the severity of their situation and the slow pace of clinical trials (it’s estimated that it takes over 10 years for a new discovery to go from the lab to the clinic), I certainly sympathized with their frustrations and did my best to get the answers they needed, asking my medical colleagues where I could and translating the technical jargon. A few patients decided to go a step further than challenging the status quo, however, and took actions into their own hands. One patient taking part in a trial sent her medication off to a private lab to test whether or not she was on placebo, and several others took off-label experimental ALS treatments like creatine or minocycline. Some of them even went abroad to China for highly controversial stem cell treatments. In the end, none of these interventions were shown to slow the disease, but it certainly showed what was possible when a smart, dedicated, and adventurous group of patients could organize online.

Fast-forward more than ten years and we see a very different world, where patients have a growing voice in treatment approval, the design of patient reported outcome measures, and increasingly share their trial experiences through social media. That’s what inspired us to write our latest article just published in the British Medical Journal which details our experiences with how members of our community have replicated a clinical trial, have started sharing their data with leading researchers to debunk alternative “cures” for their disease, and have even started taking trials into their own hands. We feel these are symptoms of a greater underlying problem that has been with the design of clinical trials from the start – trials are all take and no give.

Patients take all the risk with their health, their time, their bodies, and in return they are supposed to temporarily suspend their instinctual curiosity to know more about their health status through self-monitoring or to interact with other patients who might be in a trial, all for the good of science and other patients. Modern technology up-ends that power dynamic though, and now it’s almost as easy for a patient to measure their health status with patient-reported outcomes, wearable devices, or even lab tests as it is for their doctor. In that case, can we really say patients are truly blinded anymore? The double-blind placebo-controlled randomized controlled trial is a “gold standard” in medicine, but unless it adapts to the changing realities of the patient empowerment landscape, it will be inherently unsustainable.

That’s why our team is embarking on research this year to gain a new understanding of what patients want from trials and a new understanding of the social contract as patients want it written. Our hope is that we can bring them together with the scientific needs of researchers to conduct robust science. It won’t be easy, and it might not be popular with everyone, but it’s the best path we can see towards faster cures that respects the rights of patients to be partners, not just subjects.

PatientsLikeMe member PaulWicks


PatientsLikeMe and Dr. Max Little Team Up to Advance Parkinson’s Research Through the Patient Voice

Posted December 3rd, 2012 by

TED Fellows Call on Parkinson’s Patients to Help Screen, Monitor Disease Progression

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — December 3, 2012 —Today, Paul Wicks Ph.D., director of research for PatientsLikeMe, and Max Little, Ph.D., founder of the Parkinson’s Voice Initiative (PVI), kick off a partnership to advance Parkinson’s disease (PD) research through the sound of the patient voice. The two TED Fellows, whose collaboration was recently highlighted on CNN’s “The Next List with Dr. Sanjay Gupta,” are calling on PatientsLikeMe members to record their voices and update their own health profiles to keep track of their disease status.

PatientsLikeMe and PVI have joined forces to further validate Dr. Little’s discovery that the voice can be used as a biomarker for disease progression. Dr. Wicks says, “If Max’s work proves out, this could mean that the cell phones we all carry may be the key to the best biomarker for Parkinson’s disease. The project could also lead the way in lowering the cost and accelerating the discovery of the next generation of treatments. It’s an honor to collaborate with Max and our patients on such transformative work.”

PD is a progressive disorder of the nervous system affecting 6.3 million people worldwide. In a recent TED talk, Dr. Little explains it’s expensive and time consuming to detect the disease early on, and nearly impossible to objectively measure the disease’s progression outside of clinical trials. Through a simple phone call, Dr. Little is testing if the tremors in a voice can be used to diagnose, measure and even assess the effectiveness of PD treatments.

Dr. Little adds, “Voluntary patient registries like the one Jamie Heywood and his team have pioneered are becoming crucial for researchers like me to accelerate and transform discovery. Our work with PatientsLikeMe will help us further validate our research by giving PVI access to more people, and more information, in real time.”

PVI has combined a digital microphone, precise voice analysis software and the latest advances in machine learning to create an unconventional method for automatically screening and monitoring PD. To learn more about the PVI and PatientsLikeMe, visit www.patientslikeme.com/join/pvi.

About PatientsLikeMe
PatientsLikeMe is a patient network that helps improve 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. PatientsLikeMe has become a trusted source for real-world disease information and a clinically robust resource that has published more than 25 peer-reviewed research studies. Visit us at www.patientslikeme.com or follow us via our blog, Twitter or Facebook.