Dr. Priscilla Chan launches Rare As One: What we can do to drive progress against rare diseases

PHOTO: Priscilla Chan is pictured in this undated photo.PlayCourtesy Chan Zuckerberg Initiative
WATCH Dr. Priscilla Chan: Why patients are the answer to curing rare diseases

Priscilla Chan is co-CEO of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which she co-founded with her husband, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg. As a pediatrician and teacher, Priscilla’s work with patients and students in communities across the Bay Area has informed her desire to make learning more personalized, find new paths to manage and cure disease, and expand opportunity for more people. She is also the founder of The Primary School, which integrates health and education, and serves children and families in East Palo Alto and the Belle Haven neighborhood in Menlo Park, California. Priscilla earned her B.A. in Biology at Harvard University and her M.D. at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). She completed her pediatrics training in the UCSF/PLUS Pediatrics Residency.

Here, Chan writes about the mission of Rare As One, a program that will invest $4.5 million in patient-led endeavors to accelerate research into finding cures for rare diseases.

As a pediatrician, I’ve treated countless children with a rare disease. It’s hard, heartbreaking work that inspires me and so many others to work toward better research and treatments.

Often as a young doctor, I would look at a patient’s chart and see a diagnosis that I didn’t recognize. I would then do a literature search and realize that the medical and research community didn’t have many answers either. I learned that my best bet was to ask the patient and their family to teach me about their condition and how I could best support them. They taught me more than any textbook or lecture. I am a better physician because of those patients and families. I can see their faces as I write this and I am filled with gratitude.

There are as many as 7,000 rare diseases affecting 400 million people worldwide.

Rare diseases are anything but rare. There are as many as 7,000 rare diseases affecting 400 million people worldwide. Many of these diseases are not well understood and lack treatment options. Most have no cure.

Despite this, many patients are meeting the challenges of rare disease head-on. They are working tirelessly to pursue diagnoses, information, support and treatment options. They do this knowing they and the people they love may not personally benefit from the work they do, but that their work might save future lives.

This is selflessness in its purest form.

My experiences as a young doctor taught me that science and medicine will be better if researchers can harness the power of patients in the fight against rare disease. Researchers are asking for this key resource and patients are willing to share what they know. That’s why we launched the Rare As One Project as part of our work at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Our aim is to connect patient communities with researchers and clinicians so they can work collaboratively to find cures.

Together, we will succeed. Learn more at RareAsOne.org.