Racing Against Death

lainevanhoutan
Photo Credit: E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune

Laine VanHoutan, a posterchild for kids around the world fighting Batten Disease, died at the tender age of 12 – but not before helping usher in the first treatment for her disease, one that may help prevent a similar fate for her peers.

Laine and 64 children who contributed to the clinical trial for this new treatment, Brineura, are true heroes. But they also highlight a tragedy in medicine. 95% of rare diseases are untreated – Batten Disease has a 100% fatality rate with an average lifespan of just 12 years old – and many rare diseases are not diagnosed until irreversible damage sets in.

Moreover, due to its rarity – Batten Disease only affects 2 in 100,000 kids – it is very difficult to find enough patients just to test whether a promising drug works. If we can figure out how to diagnose children with rare disease earlier before irreversible damage sets in, we can potentially save children like Laine.

I’ve always disliked the term “Rare Disease” because, as a whole, these patients are everywhere. Do you know somebody with rare disease? How about somebody who is left handed? 1 in 10 people has a rare disease. That’s the exact same proportion that is left handed! There are over 7,000 rare diseases so, while each one may be rare on it own, many of us are silently fighting a rare disease.

The good news: You can help.

We started WeHealth to tackle some of the issues facing Laine and others with rare disease. A major issue is the diagnosis problem. Many rare diseases begin showing symptoms long before patients end up in the hospital. For instance, children with Batten Disease may exhibit learning impairment, clumsiness, and seizures years before a diagnosis.

We work with advocacy groups to identify these symptoms and ask you get them out on your social networks. You may have friends whose kid matches these symptoms or you may know a healthcare worker who sees lots of these kids but hasn’t heard of Batten Disease (with 7,000 rare diseases, it is very common for this to be the case).

Sharing this information can easily save a life. Check out our new campaign to help rare disease patients and help with a few clicks:

wehealth.io/intro/12/

Advertisements

A Day in the Life of a Rare Disease Patient: Research

“I would be happy to take part in any research if it means future generations do not suffer.” – Patient, Ehlers- Danlos syndrome.

“Medical staff (when I asked) were either dismissive or were not aware of current research…” – Patient, mal de debarquement syndrome.

“There still isn’t enough being done to let people know there is a research project going on. I would not have known about the research projects related to my conditions if I had not been intensely proactive looking for it.” – Patient, spontaneous coronary artery dissection.

“Social media is being used as a tool for recruitment, and also through the internet there is opportunity for people to be proactive and find research in which they would be eligible to participate.” – Patient, Cowden’s syndrome.

Rare Disease UK published the results of a survey to 1203 individuals affected by a rare disease in January (link) to understand their realities. I will post summaries of four sections in the report: Patient Empowerment, Diagnosis, the Undiagnosed, and Research.

95% of rare diseases lack an approved treatment. That leaves an enormous unmet need for research within the rare disease community. Fortunately rare disease patients overwhelmingly support and participate in research. 80% of survey respondents indicated that they would participate in research, and another 15% were unsure, with only 4% stating that they would not be interested.

While enthusiasm for research is high, knowledge about research opportunities is very low, with over half of respondents indicating that they felt uninformed. Another half of respondents said that research awareness has improved over the past five years, much of that having to do with social media. However, patients are still often on their own when it comes to finding research opportunities.

“To find details about research you have to know where to look. Promotion and interpretation of the research relies on a few individuals and organisations.” – Patient, hereditary spastic paraplegia.

Our core mission at WeHealth is to provide a more effective way for getting these research opportunities to patients. Our platform engages the crowd – or YOU – to accomplish this. We have built an incentive structure in which you can get points for connecting a target patient with a research opportunity OR for sharing the message to a friend who successfully makes that connection. This method is a form of social search called “referral-based crowdsourcing”, and it has proven very effective for finding rare “needle in a haystack” targets.

WeHealth makes it incredibly easy for everybody to participate in advocacy. By simply sharing messages with your friends, you can become an advocate and help these patients in a very real way.

View other articles in the “Day In The Life” series: Patient Empowerment,Diagnosis, the Undiagnosed, and Research.