February 29 is Rare Disease Day. Time to celebrate hyper-empowered rare disease patients
Thanks to the Pew Internet Foundation, we have a lot of data about ePatients. These empowered, engaged and educated patients (and families) are helping to bring about a transformation of healthcare in this country. Pew’s Susannah Fox has named them “healthcare superheroes.”
Through our experience at Siren Interactive, we know a lot about rare disease patients, who are supercharged ePatients. These patients are hyper-empowered—because they have to be. Leading up to Rare Disease Day on February 29, 2012 (a rare day indeed), I’d like to celebrate some of the amazing accomplishments of a few rare disease communities.
Team Sanfilippo Foundation is a nonprofit medical research foundation started by a group of parents with the mission of finding potential therapies that can be tested clinically in the near future. Team Sanfilippo used social media to beat out thousands of others to win $250,000 from the Pepsi Refresh Project. The grant funded a clinical trial led by Dr. Haiyan Fu of the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus.
After Katherine Leon was diagnosed with spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD), a poorly understood heart condition that affects a few thousand Americans every year, she went online. Via online communities, Leon was able to connect with a few similar women. Leon approached the Mayo Clinic’s Sharonne Hayes, MD, about how she could help spur more research into SCAD. Dr. Hayes was inspired to start a research study, with a recruitment goal of 12 patients. Leon spread the word via online communities and within a week had recruited 18 volunteers. Due to the strong interest, Mayo has launched a bigger trial with 200 SCAD patients and an equal number of their close relatives.
Bill and Nicole Morris successfully advocated for the passage of Greyson’s Law (HB 1795) to ensure that Texas screens newborns for 52 disorders. This effort was driven by the memory of their son, Greyson, who died of Krabbe disease, a rare inherited degenerative disorder of the central and peripheral nervous systems.
After an Israeli biotech company stopped working on a promising medication, two US families bought the drug and decided to develop it themselves as a possible treatment for their children’s Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The company, Halo Therapeutics, has been granted orphan drug status for the therapy. (For more on orphan drugs, see Forecasting for orphan drugs: The data challenge, Orphan diseases: Connecting with caregivers, and Patients, orphan drugs and pricing controversies.)
This year, with more accomplishments, increased media exposure and higher awareness of rare diseases, we certainly have something to celebrate and inspire us to go further.
Wendy White is founder and president of Siren Interactive.
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