Impatient patients

impatient patients

One day I sent an e-mail that changed my life. During my training as a scientist, I had learned how to study what goes wrong with the brain and to research how we could fix it. Then one day I sent an e-mail to a patient.

There are about 7,000 diseases that are considered rare because less than 1 in 2,000 people have it. It is not like diabetes, cancer, or Alzheimer’s disease, that we have all heard about. Most people have never heard about these rare diseases, and often not even physicians have heard about them.

Because they are not that common, it often takes many years to find the right diagnosis for these patients, with many left undiagnosed for the rest of their lives. And for the lucky ones that get the right diagnosis, the likelihood of having an approved medication for their disease is 1 in 20. Imagine a 1 in 20 chance of getting a medication for your cancer or your diabetes. A horrible thought, isn’t it? That is the scary world where 350 million people with rare diseases live every day.

But a revolution is changing the way we learn about and treat rare diseases, and it is driven not by progresses in medicine but in technology. Technology, powered by next generation sequencing and bioinformatics, is making the diagnosis of rare diseases much easier and faster. And technology, through the explosion of social media, is helping people with rare diseases and their families connect with other families. And that’s when magic happens.

Five years ago I read an article about a small group of parents that had created a patient organization to find a cure for their children, all diagnosed with a rare neurological condition. They didn’t know how, but they certainly knew what. Andthat is some times all you need to start.

Before finishing the article I sent them an e-mail. I knew about the brain, I knew about drug development, I knew languages and people, and I knew I wanted to help them. That e-mail changed my life. Working with patients changed my life, and not just in the way I now approach drug development and my career. It also changed the way I understand life. Because the only thing harder that being confronted with the reality that there is just a 1 in 20 chance of getting a medication for your disease is when the one with the disease is your child. And many have chosen to get together and do something about it.

That’s why I like to call them impatient patients.

The impatient revolution is already changing the way we do medicine. Patient organizations are becoming central members of the research community and key partners in the development of new treatments. The momentum the impatient patient movement has gained in some fields like rare diseases is unstoppable. And they are not doing it alone. Just like the social media that helped them get started, it is people connecting to people that fuels this movement. Impatient people willing to reach out to patients and their advocates and help create the connections and bridges that they need to succeed. Just like a LinkedIn network, every time we connect with a patient organization we expand their reach, and what starts as a rare disease of few individuals soon becomes a large network of 3rd degree connections that spans across industries and society.

And that’s when magic happens, and why I like to call them impatient patients.

Ana Mingorance PhD

Originally published in LinedIn, October 28 2016