Below is the letter Kucharski included with the petition.
Although rare disease patients are champions of hope, I have little hope of a cure within my lifetime. Instead I hope that my contributions to research will help the patients who come after me. Like the patients diagnosed with the rare diseases addressed in this study, my hope suffers. Too little research is being done to cut projects — particularly those that are close to providing publishable conclusions. Such cuts impact the rare disease community as a whole.
“ I think of the rare disease problem as a giant jigsaw puzzle with 6000 pieces (the number of diseases). They are all related, but we don't yet for the most part know how,” Dr. Christopher Austin, director of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), part of the NIH, said in a December 2013 online conversation with Wall Street Journal reporter Amy D. Marcus.
So little known means there is so much to learn. Research into rare diseases also provides insight into more common diseases, making the return on investment that much greater. However, patients like me, patients who have invested limited time, energy, and resources into making themselves available to research only to see that research cut will come to learn that the NIH does not consider making a return on these patients’ investments worthwhile, and research participation will suffer.
The study I reference, project number NIA Protocol 2003-086 “Clinical and Molecular Manifestations of Heritable Disorders of Connective Tissue," aimed “to investigate cardiovascular, neurologist, pulmonary, and musculoskeletal disease, and pain and quality of life issues and Marfan, Ehlers-Danlos, Stickler syndromes and in closely related disorders that are collectively termed hereditary disorders of connective tissue. This study may lead to better medical care for patients with hereditary disorders of connective tissue."
The study featured a longitudinal arm and a mutational analysis arm. About 450 people were to be part of the longitudinal arm; another 1,385 enrolled in the mutational arm, and 2,000 people contributed samples to the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health that would be analyzed under this study. A substudy was “to help investigators learn more about how genes affect the development and/or management of heritable disorders of connective tissue, such as Ehlers-Danlos, Stickler, Marfan Syndrome or an Overlap Connective Tissue Disorder."
Preliminary findings indicated that several patients had a family history of early death due to vascular events and “treatment with losartan or other angiotensin receptor blockers that modulate the pathway may be of benefit in the treatment of patients suffering from FMD” — patients like me. As is common with rare diseases, FMD has no treatment. Doctors do their best with limited knowledge to manage symptoms and surgically repair vascular damage. It took 31 years and a history of renal, celiac, and mesenteric bypass; bypass failure; kidney loss; four cerebral aneurysms; and a gastric rupture before I even achieved a diagnosis.
With this petition, signed by more than 10,000 people, I implore the NIH to reinstate NIA Protocol 2003-086 “Clinical and Molecular Manifestations of Heritable Disorders of Connective Tissue” such that the years of research, patient investment, and taxpayer dollars do not go to waste. Bring the study to completion and conclusions to publication. Do not compound rare disease patients’ suffering by casting aside the work that keeps hope alive and perhaps even some of us.
The petition, which patient advocate Kari Ulrich initiated and championed, is still collecting signatures. To lend your support to the cause, click here.