UK Government Launches Rare Diseases Framework 2020

UK Government Launches Rare Diseases Framework 2020

On the 9th Jan 2021, the Department of Health and Social Care has published the UK Rare Diseases Framework, which replaces the previous UK Strategy for Rare Diseases published in 2013.

You may recall that back in Sept 2019, we held our RAREsummit event at the Wellcome Genome Campus in Cambridge. At this event Baroness Nicola Blackwood, then government minister overseeing the new framework development, delivered a talk and called for the rare disease community to take part in the ‘National Conversation’ a survey ensuring patient and advocates were not only at the centre of designing the UK Rare Disease Framework, but also in shaping the direction for rare disease policy more broadly in the UK moving forward. You can watch her presentation here.

The survey aimed to identify the major challenges faced by those living and working with rare diseases, and received an amazing 6,293 responses, including from over 5,000 patients, families and patient organisations. This impressive response rate has enabled the UK government and the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to better understand what challenges were faced consistently across the community, and where differences lay between respondent groups. This information has guided the design of the Framework around four key priorities:

1

Helping patients get a final diagnosis faster

and for research into previously unrecognised conditions to help identify and diagnose new rare diseases.

2

Increasing awareness of rare diseases among healthcare professionals

and increase the use of genomic testing and the array of digital tools available to support quicker diagnosis and better patient care.

3

Helping patients get a final diagnosis faster

Living with a rare disease often means having to face appointments with multiple different specialists across different hospitals, all in addition to accessing services such as GPs and social care. All rare disease patients should experience better coordination of care throughout their patient journey.

4

Improving access to specialist care, treatments and drugs

Very few rare diseases have established treatments, but where they do exist, access to these often-innovative therapies can prove difficult. The framework hopes to improve access to specialist care, treatments and drugs for rare disease patients across the UK.


The survey also identified several cross-cutting issues, which have also been included in the Framework as underlying themes. These are:

Continuing to champion the patient voice;

Pioneering research, so that we can harness the potential of cutting-edge science and translate outcomes into frontline clinical care.

Using digital tools, data and technology to improve efficiency, patient experience and research.

Maximising collaboration with the rare disease community in the UK and across the world to drive better outcomes for patients.

Ensuring alignment with wider policy so that rare disease issues are recognised across government.

Now that the framework is published,  focus will turn to developing the actions plans to address these priorities, so we can drive real change for rare disease patients and their families. Action plans will be drawn up from each of the four UK nations, which will outline how each nation will deliver against the priorities and underlying themes in their respective health systems. It will be vital that the rare disease community is consulted, involved and listened to throughout development of these plans.

During the cross-sector hackathon as part of our RAREsummit19, teams thrashed out ideas for how they felt we might deliver on the priority themes in the Framework. We created a report to showcase some of these innovative solutions which can be viewed here. We’ll be sharing these ideas with the Dept for Health and Social Care and the teams involved in the action plan development.

Lord Bethell of Romford, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department of Health and Social Care, now leads on the Rare Disease Framework as successor to Nicola Blackwood.

The RAREsummit19 Hackathon underway
RAREsummit19 Hackathon: collaboration
The RAREsummit19 Hackathon underway

The urgent need for education and awareness about mitochondrial disease.

The urgent need for education and awareness about mitochondrial disease.

Delayed diagnosis, misdiagnosis, and no cure or disease modifying treatments – children living with mitochondrial disease face all the issues often associated with rare diseases. It’s a problem that Michelle Bamber, whose two little girls both have the life-limiting condition, knows only too well.

Cambridge Rare Disease Network - The urgent need for education and awareness about mitochondrial disease. 1

Lily was a happy, contented baby, and her parents had no cause for concern until she went for her two-year check and was put on a pathway to diagnosis.

She is now 11, “healthily unhealthy”, and has just started secondary school. On the surface things are going well, but it has been a difficult journey for the family.

“Lily was a normal baby, and she met all the normal milestones,” says Michelle. “It was only when she was coming up to two that that we started to see issues that we weren’t really happy with.

“There was a delay in getting her two-year check, but when we did, she was referred to the Child Development Centre.”

Initially, they were told Lily probably had cerebral palsy, but as she continued to develop her healthcare team decided she needed further assessment. What followed was a litany of tests and invasive procedures as doctors tried to get to the bottom of her symptoms.

Michelle said: “She was walking, then she had a CT scan, and stopped walking. That obviously rung alarm bells. She had a lumbar puncture, a muscle biopsy, various scans. She had three general anaesthetics in the space of seven weeks.

 

The internet told us some very disturbing things: that my child wouldn’t live past the age of five or that children don’t really live longer than two years after diagnosis.”

Michelle Bamber

“In August 2011, they said it was a form of mitochondrial disease, but didn’t know what one at that point. They just said it was a neurodegenerative, progressive disease, very similar to Parkinson’s.”

Lily was kept in hospital for a week where she was treated with IV vitamins, then the family were discharged with no further information.

“It was a total shock. We were just sent away from the hospital; we did not know anyone else who had it and we were very much in the dark about what was going to happen. We were on our own,” says Michelle.

“Where do you turn apart from Google? The internet told us some very disturbing things: that my child wouldn’t live past the age of five or that children don’t really live longer than two years after diagnosis.”.

Priceless support

It was at this point that Michelle discovered Lily’s Foundation, a patient advocacy group established by Liz Curtis in memory of her own Lily, who died from mitochondrial disease at just eight months old.

Through the foundation, which Michelle actively fundraises for, the Bambers have met other families who are affected by mitochondrial diseases and have been able to access evidence-based information and support.

Mitochondrial disease, or ‘mito’, is an umbrella term for a group of medical disorders caused by mutations in the mitochondria, or the cell “powerhouses”, she explained.

The genetic condition affects different people in different ways, and the symptoms might include seizures, fatigue, vision and hearing loss, cognitive disabilities, respiratory problems, and poor growth. It can affect any of the body’s organs and systems, including the brain, heart, lungs, gut, liver, and skin. Crucially, there is no cure, and while work is ongoing to develop pioneering genetic therapies, the current standard of care relies heavily on symptom management.

That’s what makes the support provided by Lily’s Foundation invaluable, says Michelle, who explained that Willow, who was born in 2013, had been diagnosed at just four months in part due to the family’s new-found awareness of the signs.

“Usually, the foundation put on family weekends so all the families can come together. The kids go off and have fun with the volunteers at the kids’ clubs.

“The parents have lectures from the mitochondrial specialists and get all the latest advice and news on what’s happening in the medical world.”

 

Extended support

While the charity has not been able to host such events during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been able to offer support to many more families thanks to a sudden uptick in awareness.

Back in May, the son of long-standing Coronation Street characters Leanne Battersby and Steve McDonald, Oliver, was diagnosed with mito after suffering seizures.

“That’s, obviously, creating a good bit of awareness and phone calls to the Lily Foundation have really increased. More people have been welcomed into the Lily family and are not living on their own with whatever their child’s going through anymore,” says Michelle.

She also hopes the storyline, which the charity and specialist doctors were consulted on, will help to address a lack of awareness among healthcare professionals that can often result in delayed or incorrect diagnosis.

“A lot of people report that they are having seizures and are diagnosed with having epilepsy, for example. Sometimes it can take a long time to get to that bigger picture and see that a patient has this, this, and this and that it is all because of mitochondrial issues,” Michelle explains.

Asked what parents who suspect their child has a rare disease like mito should do in this situation, Michelle said they should “trust their gut”.

“If you think there’s an issue, then keep talking to the doctors. Unfortunately, a lot of people find that they’re not listened to – they have to keep going back and keep insisting that things aren’t right,” she says.

For more information about the Lily Foundation, click here.

Cecily Morrison – Inclusive Design is About Taking a Disability-first Approach

Cecily Morrison – Inclusive Design is About Taking a Disability-first Approach

Cecily Morrison – Inclusive Design is About Taking a Disability-first Approach

Cecily Morrison is a principal researcher at Microsoft Research in Cambridge. She leads a multi-disciplinary team that innovates new technologies to enable people. Last month Cecily was awarded an MBE for services to inclusive design. She and her team are exhibiting at RAREfest20. More on that later, but first …

Microsoft logo

Congratulations on your MBE! How did that feel?

I was extremely pleased that inclusive design has been so clearly recognized. Inclusion is not a ‘nice-to-have’, it is essential for a diverse set of people to take part in society. I am grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to make technology, working with amazing teams, that supports people with their inclusion.

What does Microsoft in Cambridge do in terms of inclusive design?

Inclusive Design is a really good way to innovate. By working with those with unique perspectives, it can help a team think about a problem in a different way that can benefit all. Our team is currently focused on building AI tech to help people who are blind or low vision better understand who is in their immediate vicinity.

What kind of products do you work on and what difference do they make?

One of the products specifically mentioned in the MBE award was Code Jumper – a physical programming language for teaching the basics of coding and computational thinking to children ages 7 – 11, regardless of their level of vision. This came about after engaging with a community of young blind and low vision people in Cambridge, a community that my son is now part of.  Coding is a key part of our curriculum, but it isn’t accessible to those who are blind or low vision. We wanted to build something that would allow children who are blind or low vision to code alongside their sighted peers.

Read more about how Code Jumper started.

How does Microsoft work with people with accessibility challenges?

Microsoft believes in accessibility from the top down and the bottom up. Whether in research (like me) or in product, we work with people to understand their experiences now and in the future.

Melita Irving DNA Doc

Why is inclusive design important and why is it often difficult to get products adapted?

I believe that we need to take a disability-first approach, not disability-last. If it works for those with disabilities, it is much easier to make it work for the mainstream. We are moving into the next phase of AI tech and I would highly encourage those with disabilities to get involved in disability-first datasets, such as https://orbit.city.ac.uk/phase-2-data-collection/.

For technologies to reflect a diverse set of people, they must be trained on data of all of those people. Find out more here

https://blogs.microsoft.com/ai/shrinking-the-data-desert/

What can people expect from the Microsoft booth at RAREfest20?

We will be showing some of our tech and giving you the chance to try out inclusive design. Whether it’s a tool you can bring as a patient to groups you work with, or as a student who wants to approach the world in a more inclusive way, there will be something for you to learn.

Dr Melita Irving- The DNA Doc at RAREfest20

Dr Melita Irving- The DNA Doc at RAREfest20

Dr Melita Irving- The DNA Doc at RAREfest20

Known as the DNA doctor, Melita Irving is passionate about … well, DNA! She works as a consultant in clinical genetics at Guys and St Thomas’s Hospital, specialising in conditions that affect the skeleton. Last year Melita’s book ‘The Human DNA Manual’ was published by Haynes, covering everything from how DNA catches killers to identifying long-dead kings! Who’s the book for? Anyone with DNA!

DNA Doctors Melita Irving RAREfest20

At RAREfest20 Melita will be doing a live DNA extraction, not on a human (phew!) but on a strawberry. She’ll be interviewed by Dr Lucy Mackay from Medics4RareDiseases, a charity that drives an attitude change towards rare diseases amongst medical students and doctors
in training.

We caught up with Melita ahead of  RAREfest20 to talk all things DNA…

What does a genetic scientist actually do?
Genetics impacts upon every system in the body and affects everybody! The most common type of referral into the clinical genetics service is a child who is not meeting their developmental milestones. Maybe they’re not growing as expected. Maybe they look different. Maybe they have an abnormality, like a hole in the heart. The question needs to be asked: Is this child just unlucky or could there be one single explanation that accounts for everything – and could it be genetic? Being a genetic scientist is exactly like being a detective, looking for that key clue that leads you down the right path and not being confused by any red herrings that are thrown in the way.

How has technology changed the way rare diseases are diagnosed?
There are 20,000 genes, all of which can go wrong, and there are 8000 listed genetic disorders that are classed as rare diseases. Up until very recently we’ve been absolutely hamstrung by our ability to do genetic testing for diagnostic purposes. We used to put all the clues together, do our ‘best guess’ diagnosis, see if there’s a test available and then get that test done. After all that, you find you’ve been on the wrong path the whole time. So, you’d have to come back up that path and go down another one. Rinse and repeat. It could be a very long drawn out process that never led to any answers.

However, we are now in an era where we can do high throughput genetic testing. We are able to look at all the genes in one go and focus all our attention on those we think are relevant to the story. You can go down ten different paths at the same time! We are anticipating that in the next year or so the speed at which we get to diagnosis through genetic testing will be much quicker. That’s all down to technology and whole genome sequencing.

Why are rare diseases so hard to diagnose?
Not many people know about rare diseases and there are so many of them, plus there’s no one type. You might have the same diagnosis as someone else, but the format of your rare disease is completely different.

Another problem is at medical school we are frequently told not to worry about rare diseases and concentrate on more common conditions. This means rare diseases are never fully appreciated and that bit of the ‘doctor brain’ never gets to develop. Medics4RareDiseases are pushing for more learning at medical school and in early stage careers, so rare diseases become something you must think about.

Melita Irving DNA Doc

Technology has opened up the door for a much more rapid diagnostic system for rare disease, which will mean they will be pushed up the agenda and that will encourage greater awareness.

Who is your hero and why?

Rosalind Franklin. An unsung hero who doggedly worked away at discovering the structure of DNA, didn’t get recognition for her amazing work, but didn’t make a fuss about it. I’ve seen the photograph she took that led to the understanding of DNA as a double helix. It’s a wonderful thing to behold.

Where’s your favourite place in the world and why?
This year I didn’t get to go to any the events I usually do, but I did manage to get a holiday! I went to Rhodes in Greece and it reminded me how much I love all things Greek! The sky, the sea, the food, the language. Just lying on the Mediterranean in the sunshine with the prospect of a delicious lunch on the beach is probably one of my favourite places to be.

What is your greatest achievement?
The book! I’m delighted with how it’s turned out. It looks so pretty and is accessible to people who might not know anything about DNA. If I can impart my love of DNA to other people, that would be a very fine achievement.

What are your hopes for the future of rare disease?
With all the improvements in how rare diseases are diagnosed, it would be really great if the next step was finding treatments that will make things better for patients with rare diseases. That’s where I’d like to see the future going.

Every Cookie is Hope

Every Cookie is Hope

Ten-year-old Dana from Boulder, Colorado, is no ordinary kid. In fact, she’s done something extraordinary in the quest to find treatments for rare diseases. What started out as a fundraiser to help her friend Mila has now turned into a lucrative non-profit cookie enterprise where every batch equals much needed cash for cures.
At RAREfest20, Dana will lead a cookie decorating workshop and answer your questions. She hopes you’ll be inspired to get baking, too!

RAREfest saturday speaker Giles Yeo

How did Cookies for Cures start?
It started when I was 7. At speech therapy I made this amazing friend called Mila. She was really nice and really bubbly. We’d just talk and play together. When I found out she was sick with a rare and fatal disease called Batten, I just had to help her. Me and my mom came up with the idea to sells cookies. That’s how it started. We called it Cookies4Mila. The next year we decided to set up a non-profit called Cookies4Cures. So far, we’ve baked about 17,000 cookies and raised over $100,000. Each cookie is hope.

Why cookies?
Well, I’d never baked before, but I loved eating cookies. Originally, I thought I’d sell cold lemonade but that wouldn’t really work in the winter. We were planning to raise money all year round. Cookies were perfect, because you can eat cookies in the summer, in the winter, when it’s hot, when it’s cold. Who doesn’t love cookies?!

What’s been the response?
Surprisingly, a lot of people say they could never do what I’m doing, but I don’t think that’s true. We can all make a difference. You just need to start!

This is about raising money, but also awareness. Do you think you’re making a difference?
I’m not that well known, but I know I’ve made a difference to Mila’s life. We raised around $50,000 to pay for treatment and that prolonged her life.

How has Mila’s rare disease impacted on her?
She’s a completely different person to how she was when I met her. She can’t see, she can’t talk, she can’t walk, she can’t do so many of the things that she used to be able to do. It’s really tough.

What have you learnt as a result of your work over the last 3 years?

I have two other friends with rare diseases, Ollie and Ben. I’m not sure I’d know about rare diseases if some of my friends hadn’t got them. It’s made me realise that, as a whole, rare diseases aren’t that rare. Doing Cookies4Cures has made me less afraid to speak up and help my friends.

Who is your hero and why?
Greta Thunberg. She spoke up for what she believed was right and she doesn’t let anyone stop her!

Where’s your favourite place in the world and why?
I’m not entirely sure. Probably eating cookies! Mum has a rule on that we can’t eat any cookies until after a bake sale is done.

What is your greatest achievement?
Prolonging Mila’s life. That feels like the most important thing that ever happened. It let me enjoy more time with her.

What is your hope for rare disease?
I hope that one day there’s a treatment for every single rare disease, so no one has to suffer, or watch their friends die or get so sick that they can no longer recognise them.

Dana Perella Cookies for Cures
Dana Perella Cookies for PANS

A Puff of Smoke at RAREfest20: A comic book on being undiagnosed

A Puff of Smoke at RAREfest20: A comic book on being undiagnosed

A Puff of Smoke at RAREfest20: A comic book on being undiagnosed

““Too often you’re seen as a number, rather than a human being. That needs
to change.” –
Sarah Lippett, Artist, Illustrator, Author and owner of two rare diseases

RAREfest saturday speaker Giles Yeo
If you are a young person on your diagnostic journey or you’ve travelled that path yourself or with a loved one, then you’ll want to check in with RAREfest20 exhibitor, Sarah Lippett. Why? Because Sarah, who has two rare diseases, knows better than anyone the impact of ‘not knowing’ and the frustration of misdiagnosis.

Sarah’s comic book memoir  ‘Puff of Smoke’ is all about the isolation of being undiagnosed. Her journey lasted from the age of seven to eighteen, a young lifetime of lengthy spells in hospital, lost friendships and missed opportunities. As an author and illustrator, Sarah wanted to create something that would give hope to young people on their diagnosis journeys – and raise awareness within medical circles.

Visit Sarah’s Crayonlegs exhibit at RAREfest20 – tickets here https://www.camraredisease.org/rarefest20/

At 12, Sarah was diagnosed with FSGS, a rare condition that causes scar tissue to develop on parts of the kidneys that filter waste from the blood. Not so rare. It actually affects 1 in 17,000 people. With medication, her condition stabilised long term.

Then, at 18, Sarah was also diagnosed with Moyamoya, which is far more unusual, affecting 1 in a million people in the UK. It causes the blood vessels to the brain to become narrowed, leading to paralysis and stroke. An operation all but cured this allowing her to live a full, busy life.

Last month, after sixteen years, Sarah’s FSGS symptoms returned, throwing her back to the uncertainty of her early years. It is a stark reminder of how uncertain life is with chronic illness and how dramatically life can change.

 “One minute I’m taking my health for granted, running marathons, travelling with work as an artist and writer, lecturing at university and publishing a second graphic novel with Penguin. Then suddenly, overnight, here I am with deteriorated kidney function. The disease is back and I’m suffering on high dosages of my treatment like when I was a child.”

Join Sarah at RAREfest20 to explore her exhibit and discover more about her diagnosis journey and her life since. You can check out her book here > https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/111/1113654/a-puff-of-smoke/9781911214861.html

“It’s a life I thought was in the past, but it’s different now. I’m an adult with responsibilities, a career and a real life. My mum and dad aren’t my carers anymore. I feel I have to be even stronger now but it’s very, very hard. In a way, the only silver lining is the pandemic. My condition would prevent me going onto the university campus, but thankfully I’m able to teach my students online. This gives me connection to the outside world, happiness and distraction. I don’t feel jealous that I’m missing out, because we’re all at home, restricted, and there’s something comforting in that. I’m taking pleasure in smaller things – walks around my new home of Portobello in Edinburgh and trying to remain hopeful that this is just temporary. It will pass.”

Who is your hero?
My mum and dad. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know if I would ever have got a diagnosis. They fought for me and never treated me any different to my siblings. Even when my body was out of control, they burned it into the back of my mind that I can do anything I want. I’ve lived my whole life with that positivity.

Where is your favourite place in the world?
Anywhere my husband and my dog are! I love Portobello Beach in Edinburgh. It’s incredibly
relaxing and calm. Scotland is stunning. It’s a wonderful place to live.

What is your greatest achievement?
Being a published author twice, against the background of my school life which was ‘You’ll never achieve anything!’ I also have a BA degree and an MA from the Royal College of Art, which I’m really proud of.

What is your hope for rare disease?
I hope that the community keeps growing and that awareness keeps growing. I hope the route to diagnosis gets shorter for everyone.

puff of smoke sarah lippett rarefest20

Journey of Hope: Ceridwen Hughes at RAREfest20

Journey of Hope: Ceridwen Hughes at RAREfest20

Journey of Hope: Ceridwen Hughes at RAREfest20

“The importance of diagnosis cannot be underestimated. Not only do you feel like you have something you can put a name to, but it opens doors, not least the ability to connect with others who have that shared experience and knowledge.”
Ceridwen Hughes, Same but Different

RAREfest saturday speaker Giles Yeo

Founder of Same but Different, Ceridwen Hughes, will lead a webinar at RAREfest20 all about the diagnostic journeys faced by parents of children with rare diseases. It’s based on the critically acclaimed film ‘Journey of Hope’, which Ceridwen directed. Here she talks to us about the importance of diagnosis, her hopes and her heroes.

RAREfest20 logo

As a parent of a child with a rare disease, what does RAREfest20 mean to you – and your child?
Awareness about Rare Diseases and the celebration of this wonderful community is really important. RAREfest is a brilliant opportunity to bring people together and share experiences, whilst also educating one another and the wider community about all things rare!

From your research and your own experience, what frustrations do parents face in their diagnostic journey? 
In our film, ‘Journey of Hope’, I think Iggy’s mum, Sarah, explained it perfectly. She said, “The diagnosis certainly doesn’t give us simplicity, but it gives us a starting point. It gives us a starting point to begin to understand what Iggy needs. Before that, we had nothing.”

 Our own diagnostic journey was relatively short. It took 11 months, but this felt like a long time to us. Sadly, for so many, it can take many more years.  The importance of diagnosis cannot be underestimated. Not only do you feel like you have something you can put a name to, but it opens doors, not least the ability to connect with others who have that shared experience and knowledge.  When I chat with parents as part of my work, we immediately have that shared bond, even if our child’s rare disease is very different. You just ‘get it’. 

There are so many barriers in place before you get a diagnosis, including from some medical professionals.  We recently gave a talk to medics. Whilst grabbing a coffee, a consultant said that he often saw patients in his clinic and, even if he knew what their condition was likely to be, he did not see a value in telling them.  This arrogance and lack of understanding needs to be addressed.  It is one of the main drivers for creating the ‘Journey of Hope’.  We wanted to open up dialogue about the importance of a diagnosis whilst also highlighting it is not the answer to all your problems. 

Does life become easier with a diagnosis?
From our experience one of the things that is important when you get a diagnosis is that you don’t only look at disease-specific information.  The answer to a problem often comes from other sources and other diseases.  Through our Rare Navigator service, we support families with any rare disease. It has been helpful in sharing ideas or solutions that others, often with very different diseases, have found works for them.  The knowledge within the rare disease community is vast and it is important it is shared across the spectrums.

 

You have spoken to and photographed numerous people with rare diseases. What have you learnt about the rare disease community?
Over the years I have spoken to so many people affected by rare disease, including parents, individuals affected and other close relatives. The word that jumps out is resilience.  The strength to keep on getting back up, even after the most incredibly difficult times, is awe inspiring. The rare disease community is always on hand to provide information, support and a big hug when needed.

Dr Giles Yeo says the biggest challenge is convincing people that understanding rare diseases benefits the whole of society. Do you agree?
Absolutely. Finding treatments for rare diseases that can be used for more common ailments is just one example.  In a world where people are often judged on what they look like rather than accepted for who they are, it makes it even more important that society is aware of rare diseases. Recognising the challenges people go through will ultimately lead to a kinder, more compassionate community. 

 One of the reasons I set up ‘Same but Different’ was to capture the person behind the condition rather than simply show their disability.  We use photography, video and written narratives that give the individual a stronger voice in their community.  Often, it’s the first time they have shared their very personal experiences. It has really helped others understand their challenges.

Who is your hero and why?
I am incredibly lucky that each day I get to work with my heroes. I know it sounds a bit corny, but my heroes are each and every parent whose child gets a rare disease diagnosis and has to carry on and fight for their child to access the treatments and support they need.  These are the parents who have to smile when they are condescended to. These are the ones who have to smile when their heart is shattering because, once again, their child is overlooked or underestimated. 

Where’s your favourite place in the world and why?
It has to be Finnish Lapland, a small ski village called Levi which is far above the arctic circle.  We had the most magical week’s holiday there.  It was the first time we went on a husky ride through the snowy forest at -21 and Isaac fell asleep on a sledge whilst we looked for northern lights.  A close second would have to be Tromso in Norway, again a magical place in the winter.

What is your greatest achievement?
Picking up the camera for the first time and having the courage to follow my dreams and change career in my 40s.  I would also say setting up an MDT for Moebius syndrome when one did not exist before.

What is your hope for rare disease?
I would hope that one day it is recognised for not being rare and, with that, people may be more willing to look at the overall impact these diseases have on health, education and the community as a whole.

Cambridge Rare Disease Network - Journey of Hope: Ceridwen Hughes at RAREfest20 2

New Scientist magazine: Rare disease campaign 2020

New Scientist magazine: Rare disease campaign 2020

New Scientist magazine: Rare disease campaign 2020

Cambridge Rare Disease Network - New Scientist magazine: Rare disease campaign 2020 3

CRDN were delighted to recently take part in a new Rare Disease campaign in the New Scientist Magazine published on 24 Sept. It is dedicated to raising awareness of rare diseases featuring exclusive content from key thought leaders (including CRDN!). It discusses the importance of collaboration in rare disease and the potential silver linings that can be found in the midst of a pandemic. You can pick up your copy in shops now or read our article and the full the rare disease campaign online here at Health Awareness.

Lucy McKay M4RD image
Cambridge Rare Disease Network - New Scientist magazine: Rare disease campaign 2020 4

“Dr Lucy McKay from M4RD, Rebecca Stewart from Rare Revolution and I came together in March 2020 with a mutual concern about how devastating the impact of COVID-19 an the global response to it was on rare disease. Concerns focussed around delayed diagnosis as genomic and medical  services were halted,  patients medical and social care crumbling around them and the prospect of  cancelled research and delayed clinical trails and drug approvals as resources were diverted away.  We shared a collective drive to make sure we learned everything we can about how the pandemic has affected those with rare diseases and rare disease services – the risks, but also opportunities such as the overnight opening up of networks by using digital communication.

From some initial discussion Action for Rare Disease Empowerment (ARDEnt) has grown – a collaborative multi-stakeholder group from across different sectors and industries. Because if we can’t all come together for rare disease now, when will we?”

Jo Balfour (Managing Director) 

Jo Balfour CRDN New Scientist Magazine

Dr. Giles Yeo “RAREfest20 is a unique event that drives better science”

Dr. Giles Yeo “RAREfest20 is a unique event that drives better science”

Dr. Giles Yeo “RAREfest20 is a unique event that drives better science”

Dr Giles Yeo works at the University of Cambridge, studying the genetics of obesity and the mechanisms of how our brain controls food intake. While interested in the general population, Giles says information garnered from studying rare disease patients with severe obesity helps understand the biology which has a broader impact on society and everyone else. We spoke to him ahead of his talk at RAREfest20

< Giles chats about CRDN’s RAREfest20
RAREfest20 logo

Why is RAREfest so important?
The vast majority of conferences I attend are within the academic bubble. You’re talking to other scientists and speaking in jargon. Presenting at an event like RAREfest, you have to think harder about what you’re going to say. Not only are you talking to scientists, but also patients and their families. For me as an academic and a scientist, this is always a gut check. Scientists can be myopic when they’re sitting in the lab moving small volumes of colourless liquids around. This a reminder that at the end of the test tube there is a human being and we’re trying to stop their suffering.

RAREfest brings together the people doing the research with the people suffering from the problem. This provides more perspective and I think drives better science.

Patients affected by rare diseases say they’ve been all but forgotten during the pandemic. Why do you think this is?
The problem with rare diseases is like the name says, they’re rare. These conditions have a huge impact on the individual affected, but on a societal level, very little. When you’re going out and about talking about a condition, your words will influence the patients and the families affected, but for the average person, when you say the condition only affects 1 out of 15,000 people, they don’t feel concerned.

Human beings are inherently selfish because we’re interested in self-preservation. With a limited number of neurons in our brains, we want to worry about what impacts the majority of society rather than what impacts a small proportion of society. This is the problem. This is the value of having Cambridge Rare Disease Network and events surrounding rare disease because while each disease is, by its definition, rare, these events allow you to build critical mass. You can begin to group the conditions together.

For instance, each of the individual genetic conditions that result in severe obesity is going to be vanishingly rare. But once you group them all together, they explain a significant proportion, around 1-2%, of obesity.

What are the greatest challenges facing RD patients?
It’s all about money. How do you convince someone to fund your study of a rare disease? If you’re a charity, how to you get the man on the street to part with his hard-earned bucks? And, how do you persuade a government funder or big charity that this is an important disease to study, compared to the big four – cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes. I’m not trying to compare the severity or the relevance here, but it is a challenge to frame your argument that the study of rare diseases is important.

 

 

 

What would be the biggest step forward for the rare disease community?
That would be to convince society that they should care. I know it sounds callous, but large proportions of society say, ‘I’ve got other problems, I don’t have to worry about you.’

Why should they care? They have to care because while the disease in itself is rare, it is influencing a universal pathway. For example, understanding what influences your body weight opens up greater possibilities and new biology for understanding this problem for the broader community. Studying this as a rare condition may result in the development of a drug that not only helps a rare person but broader society. Understanding rare genetic variations help develop universal pathways that impact everyone in the species.

Tell us what people can expect from your talk at RAREfest20.
I will chart the story about how studying rare diseases of obesity has given us new insight into normal variations of body weight. Why are some people small, medium or large? Our knowledge stems from, largely, the study of rare diseases. I want to convince people that by us understanding a rare condition there is a benefit to broader society. Again, it’s about showing people and policymakers why it’s worth supporting research into rare disease.

Who is your hero?
My PhD supervisor, the Nobel prize winner, Sydney Brenner. I was his last PhD student. He took a chance on me and gave me my love for genetics. He died last year, but his impact on me remains.

Where is your favourite place in the world?
San Francisco. That’s where I did my undergraduate degree. My dad is still there. I love going there for holidays and to see my family.

What is your greatest achievement?
I haven’t achieved it yet! I’d like society to understand that your body weight is not actually a choice but biologically driven. That’s my goal. The world would be a much kinder place.

What is your wish for rare diseases?
For society and funding bodies to understand why it’s worth investing resources to study rare diseases.

Cambridge Rare Disease Network - Dr. Giles Yeo "RAREfest20 is a unique event that drives better science" 5

RAREsolutions 2020: Change by Design – STEM poster Competition for young people

RAREsolutions 2020: Change by Design – STEM poster Competition for young people

RAREsolutions 2020: Change by Design – STEM poster Competition for young people

Cambridge Rare Disease Network - RAREsolutions 2020: Change by Design - STEM poster Competition for young people 6
Hannah & Nicole, the winners of the RAREsolutions competition 2018 with Jonathan Milner

Enthusiasm, Curiosity, Initiative

Winners of RAREsolutions poster design competition 2018 share their insights for this year’s challenge!

If you take a sprinkle of artistic talent and a splash of passion for medicine and health, you have a winning formula for success! Nicole and Hannah pooled their talents to produce a brilliant entry for our first ever RAREsolutions STEM poster competition, impressing the judges with their creativity and determination for making a difference.

 

RAREsolutions20 poster design competition logo

RAREsolutions is a poster competition with a conscience, pushing for change by design. It’s part of the RAREfest20 rare -disease inspired festival and is open to anyone in Years 7-13.  All you have to do is watch the RAREsolutions challenge videos, pick the one that inspires you most, and go for it.

As we launch our new and exciting RAREsolutions 2020 STEM competition, let’s hear from the dynamic duo who scooped the prize last time.

Hannah & Nicole share their thoughts about the RAREsolutions design competition

Why did you enter the competition?

Hannah: We found out about the RAREsolutions poster competition in our school bulletin. I was immediately drawn to take part as it really struck a chord with me, having recently learnt about genetics in biology. I have a real passion for medicine and health! I knew instantly I wanted to take part with my friend Nicole, who is really good at art and design. Combining our talents and being able to work collaboratively really appealed to us. It’s not often we get to work as a team!

What inspired your design?

Nicole: The first steps was to decide which challenge we wanted to design a poster for. On the CRDN website there were three different challenges set from people with rare conditions. They asked us to create innovative solutions to help them live more independent lives.

Hannah: The one that really resonated with us came from Eilidh. The quest to make playtime more fun and accessible. Eilidh has KAT6A syndrome, an extremely rare genetic neurodevelopmental disorder. This can impair or alter growth and development of the brain and central nervous system.

What research did you do?

Nicole: We had a few weeks to research the condition, contact Vaila (Eilidh’s Mum), find a solution and design the poster. It was amazing to take part in a project that combined science, research skills and design.

Hannah: RAREsolutions was not dry like the usual essay writing competitions and gave us the change to come up with a real-world solution. Life can throw up all sorts of accessibility challenges for those living with sensory and physical disabilities, but actually they are people just like you and me. They want to live life to the full, but the environment makes that tough.

I’d recommend taking part in this competition to anyone. It not only helps patients with rare diseases live better lives, but also changes your own life!

Hannah

Winners of the RAREsolution 2018 competition

You presented your winning idea at RAREfest18. How did that feel?

Nicole: We were hugely proud of our achievement but also daunted at the idea of presenting to an audience of genetic experts, having only previously made presentations at school!

Hannah: It really helped having each other for support. We put together a presentation and also produced a tri-fold leaflet. It was a fantastic opportunity to stand up in front of an audience of people from the rare disease community, ranging from genetic scientists to patients and their families. It was an incredible experience!

How has this competition changed your lives?

Nicole: It has really inspired me to find out more about how rare disease affects patients, not only the biology aspect also the social implications and how people can be marginalised. Taking part in the competition gave me more confidence and led me to focus on eugenics for my Year 12 project.

Hannah: On the day itself, we met some great people and made some really useful contacts for the future. I found myself having a conversation with someone from the Stem Cell Institute, which prompted the subject for my Year 12 research project about stem cell treatment and therapies for Type 1 Diabetes.

The RAREfest20 RAREsolutions poster competition is now LIVE!

RAREfest20 logo

RAREsolutions poster competition is part of RAREfest20, a vital, vibrant, virtual festival that champions the rare disease community, bringing together the brightest scientific minds, the most innovative tech, the medical pioneers and, of course, the patients, who are as unique as the festival itself.

2019 Rare Disease Day Cambridge Lecture

2019 Rare Disease Day Cambridge Lecture

2019 Rare Disease Day Cambridge Lecture

Put over 150 passionate and motivated people together to talk about rare disease research and you can expect a fascinating evening. 

That’s just what happened at the recent public evening, hosted by Cambridge Rare Disease Network in collaboration with the NIHR BioResource for Translational Research at Addenbrooke’s Hospital to mark International Rare Disease Day 2019.

Cambridge Rare Disease Network - 2019 Rare Disease Day Cambridge Lecture 7
Cambridge Rare Disease Network - 2019 Rare Disease Day Cambridge Lecture 8

Short research talks were followed by a Q+A panel facilitated by Dr. Gemma ChandratillakeCRDN Trustee (pictured left)

Full agenda and biographies from the day. Click on the links below to view the audio and presentation slides for each talk.

Cambridge Rare Disease Network - 2019 Rare Disease Day Cambridge Lecture 9

Welcome Address
Prof. Patrick Chinnery
NIHR BioResource Co-Chair, Head of Department for Clinical Neurosciences, University of Cambridge

Cambridge Rare Disease Network - 2019 Rare Disease Day Cambridge Lecture 10

Improving Patient Health in CNO and SAPHO
Dr. Jagtar Singh Nijar
NIHR Clinical Lecturer in Rheumatology, University of Cambridge

Cambridge Rare Disease Network - 2019 Rare Disease Day Cambridge Lecture 11

Whole Genome Sequencing for susceptibility to infectious disease
Dr. James Thaventhiran
Consultant Clinical Immunologist, University of Cambridge (slides and audio not available)

Cambridge Rare Disease Network - 2019 Rare Disease Day Cambridge Lecture 12

Next Generation Children Project – Rapid Genome Sequencing for critically ill children
Dr. Isabelle Delon  Clinical Scientist, EMEE Genomic Laboratory

Cambridge Rare Disease Network - 2019 Rare Disease Day Cambridge Lecture 13

Imaging in the diagnosis of Rare Diseases
Dr. Tomasz Matys
University Lecturer and Honorary Consultant in Radiology, University of Cambridge

Screenprinting for RAREfest & Unique Feet

Screenprinting for RAREfest & Unique Feet

Screenprinting for RAREfest & Unique Feet

The RAREfest logo comes to life…

Our Graphic Designer has been to summer school, learning to screenprint at Cottenham Village college under the tuition of Ricki Outis – local textile and community artist.

The set up was not commercial so everything was done in a way that was possible to set up at home in a garage, or on a kitchen table, and where all masks and templates are made with paper.

The RAREfest logo offered the perfect opportunity to try out the process of printing with multiple colours and needing to get the registration of all 4 colours as close to each other as possible.

So she cut out four masks, one for each colour, mixed in ink to match the RAREfest colours and away she went – hoping that the logos would work well enough to be useful.

We’re really pleased with the results and are excited to see what she makes for our Unique Feet group…

Cambridge Rare Disease Network - Screenprinting for RAREfest & Unique Feet 15
After the first mask is removed 
Cambridge Rare Disease Network - Screenprinting for RAREfest & Unique Feet 16
First colour done, 3 to go 
Cambridge Rare Disease Network - Screenprinting for RAREfest & Unique Feet 17
Second and third colours having been added 
Cambridge Rare Disease Network - Screenprinting for RAREfest & Unique Feet 18
9 RAREfest logos ready to be used

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