An announcement from Toni: Founder of The Information Point and The Big Sunflower Project

After almost 20 years, Toni Abram, founder of The Information Point and The Big Sunflower Project, will be stepping down from her roles at the end of this year. Below she writes about her work over the last twenty years and shares some of her favourite photos.

I established The Information Point in 2001 following my dad and I being diagnosed with centronuclear myopathy in 1998. Like so many with centronuclear and myotubular myopathy, the journey to diagnosis was not an easy one. I had seen three doctors over a period of ten years but my symptoms were mild and I went without a diagnosis until dad began to experience problems in his 50’s.

I remember receiving the diagnosis felt overwhelming and lonely – we were told there were very few others in the world with our illness, nor was there a treatment. So, when I established The Information Point in 2001, the aim was to provide a website dedicated specifically to centronuclear and myotubular myopathy, where people could visit to find all the information they needed in one place, in the early days of diagnosis and beyond – helping others in their search for information; bringing those with the conditions together, whatever their age, whatever form of the conditions they had and wherever they may be in the world; and raising awareness of the conditions too.

Specific information about centronuclear and myotubular myopathy was posted on the website, together with information about other myopathies and news about centronuclear and myotubular myopathy from around the world. Areas for research news and resources were also developed, together with a ‘share a story‘ area for all forms of the condition, including unknown patterns of inheritance. And a newsletter, the predecessor to Our World, published stories of interest to the centronuclear and myotubular myopathy community, including a series of interviews titled All About Me which aimed to give people the opportunity to discuss their diagnosis and how they dealt with it, as well as the opportunity to talk about the things that made them, such as their favourite books, films and music; what their favourite childhood memory was; who most influenced their life and why. The interviews aimed to show that a disability didn’t have to define a person and that a person with a disability was still just a person.

Pages were set up on social media and an online shop was opened to raise funds for research also. Now maintained directly by the Myotubular Trust, rarely a day goes by where a donation isn’t received by someone shopping at the Myotubular Trust Easyfundraising eStore.

In 2012 the first Our World newsletter was published. It provided an opportunity to not only share the latest research and fundraising news but to give those with centronuclear and myotubular myopathy the opportunity to have their voice heard, by telling their stories, about their lives, their way – achievements, milestones, fundraising events and more, which today has led to an amazing resource for families in 2020 and beyond receiving a centronuclear or myotubular myopathy diagnosis. 

The Big Sunflower Project first invited people to grow sunflowers in 2011. I have always loved the way that sunflowers grow to such dizzy heights, as if they are on a mission to touch the sky and nothing can hold them back. It occurred to me that many charity fundraising/awareness raising type projects involved people doing something physical – being sponsored to run, swim, climb or bicycle, something that even I, although ambulatory, would not be keen to do. However popping a seed in a pot and nurturing it for a few weeks was something most people could do, whatever their physical ability and that was very appealing to me, because it meant that those diagnosed with centronuclear and myotubular myopathy could take part too.

The idea was simple – give away sunflower seeds to raise awareness of centronuclear and myotubular myopathy and ask people to share photos of their sunflowers online. The project was only intended to last for one year but this year sunflowers were grown for the tenth summer.

Over the past ten years, 4,766 photos have been shared, all of which have been posted on social media to raise awareness of centronuclear and myotubular myopathy. Participants have joined the project from across the UK, Ireland, the Isle of Man, the USA, Costa Rica, Argentina, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, The Netherlands, France, Croatia, Hungary, Sweden, Austria, Lithuania, Greece and Poland.

As the project grew, around 300 packets of seeds were distributed each year, with seeds sent to those affected by centronuclear and myotubular myopathy, together with schools and nurseries, community groups, groups who work with disadvantaged people, hospices and youth groups to name a few, so as well as raising awareness of centronuclear and myotubular myopathy, the project supported the activities of these groups too. 

Run from my home, in my spare time, neither The Information Point or The Big Sunflower Project had charitable status and I came to describe them as voluntary, non profit organisations, with charitable aims, run at a grassroots level, when needing to explain what they did. As such neither group received any regular funding, rather funding was sought as and when required, all of which was ploughed back into the work of the groups. On one occasion The Big Sunflower Project undertook a crowdfunding project and on other occasions competitions were entered – success with the Galaxy Hot Chocolate Fund and the Skipton Building Society Grassroots Giving initiatives ensured that enough money was incoming to cover running costs. Banks, supermarkets and more assisted with financial donations and other organisations donated their products, services, time and expertise.

Deserving of a particular mention are Net-work Internet who in 2006 began sponsoring The Information Point and have provided the web hosting and domain name at no charge ever since. Also Extravision, who provided The Information Point with their email marketing service free of charge for many years, meaning Our World could be sent quickly, easily and professionally. All the companies who provided sunflower seeds at no charge or with large discounts, helping make the most of limited resources; the lovely sunflower growers who so kindly took the time to harvest their seeds and donate these to the project and all the individuals who donated money that kept things ticking over. You all rock and The Information Point and The Big Sunflower Project would never have happened without you.

Working on The Information Point and The Big Sunflower Project has been an incredible experience. I have learned so much and it has been a joy getting to know so many people from the centronuclear and myotubular myopathy community in the process. Deciding to step back hasn’t been an easy decision but the time to focus on other things in my life has come … at least for the time being.

It is said that it takes a village to raise a child but I believe it could also be said that it takes a village to achieve everything that has been achieved within the centronuclear and myotubular myopathy community over the last 20 years too – from little known rare conditions to clinical trials is no mean feat.

There are now many wonderful big hearted people working behind the scenes, making many wonderful things happen for the community worldwide – people who understand only too well what it means to live with a diagnosis of centronuclear and myotubular myopathy, because their own family is, or has been impacted by the conditions and who I know will appreciate any support you can offer in the years to come. So please, do what can, when you can, if you can, to support them; continue to share your stories; be kind to one another … and if you see a sunflower, please think of me.

Myotubular Trust news

The Myotubular Trust 2020 grant call

The Myotubular Trust 2020 grant call is now open and scientists from around the world are invited to apply for a research grant.

Medical research image.

The goal of their work must be to help find a cure or treatment for any of the forms of myotubular and centronuclear myopathy. Read more about the grant call below.

Completed applications must be received by 5pm on Friday 26 June 2020. It is anticipated that awards will be made in early September.

UK patient webinar

On Saurday 4 July 2020, Myotubular Trust will be hosting a patient update webinar.  Join in from the comfort of your own home, using a computer, tablet or phone.

Speakers on the day are:

  • Professor Francesco Muntoni, Professor in Paediatric Neurology and UK Investigator for ASPIRO the gene therapy trial
  • Professor Ros Quinlivan, Consultant in Neuromuscular Disease and Investigator for UNITE-CNM, the antisense therapy trial
  • Dr Giovanni Baranello, Honary Consultant in Paediatric Neurology/Neuromuscular Disease and UK investigator for the Tamoixfen clinical trials

Topics will include:

  • Covid 19 in neuromuscular disease patients – what’s been learnt
  • Clinical trials update – the latest on gene therapy, antisense therapy and drug repurposing trials in the UK
  • Questions and answers from the patient community

You must register if you would like to attend. Please email melaniespring@myotubularmyopathy.org to receive a personal Zoom invite and instructions on how to join.

Further information

For further information about this event visit the Myotubular Trust website.

Webinar announcement.

Myotubular Trust logo

Good news stories (part one)

2020 has been a difficult time for everyone but despite coronavirus life has been going on, so we have been on the look out for good news stories from the CNM/MTM community.

Want to  join in spreading some happiness? Maybe you have celebrated a birthday, reached a milestone, received an award or honour, achieved something in your work, passed an exam, completed a degree, graduated or something else? If you have good news, please share it with us together with a photo, by sending an email to cnmmtminfo@gmail.com so we can celebrate with you.

Rian

In April, Rian from Cork, celebrated his 10th birthday with a surprise visit from the emergency services.

Members of Cork City Fire Brigade, the Roads Policing Unit, the Community Policing Unit and the Garda Dog Unit gathered outside Rian’s home and sang him Happy Birthday. Garda Pat Harrington also offered Rian the opportunity to go on patrol of the local neighbourhood with him and his garda dogs, Laser and Rex, once the coronavirus restrictions have been lifted and Rian’s school friends joined in the celebrations over video call.

Amy

Amy was diagnosed with centronuclear myopathy, Dynamin 2 mutation at the age of 16. She recently completed her Digital Photography degree at the University of Chester after three years of hard work.

Amy

During very challenging circumstances Amy had to roll with the punches, going from putting up an exhibition at the start of the year to designing an online one, the concept of which was the  ancient gods and how different society was today.

Gods of Modern Day is a series of Fine Art portraits that depict Greek Gods in contemporary scenes.  Dionysus, the God of Wine, is depicted in a Night Club setting whilst Demeter, the goddess of harvest, is seen perched on a hay bale within a crop field presenting a fast food cup instead of her traditional wheat or torch. Ares, the God of War has been depicted against the ruins of Athens,  he yields a wooden slate instead of a spear and a baseball cap and heavy eye make up instead of his typical helmet.

View the Identity exhibition and Amy’s portfolio can be seen below.

Spencer

Spencer is a cum laude graduate from Central Bucks High School West in Doylestown, PA. He has worked very hard to achieve this accomplishment. He is currently 19 years old and will remain at Central Bucks West High School Post -12 to study computer programming.

Corey and family on graduation day.

Wicktor

Wiktor from Poland is five years old – he is diagnosed with myotubular myopathy and loves to draw.  We absolutely love Wicktor’s smiley work.

Illustration by Viktor.


Logan

Logan is 8 years of age and in the 2nd grade of  Alamance Elementry in Greensboro, South Carolina. This year he has made much progress in school and in June he was named Mr Congeniality by his teacher Miss McAmis.

Logan with Mr Congeniality certificate.

Anthony

On 10 May, Anthony from Monroe, Connecticut celebrated his 19th birthday.  Each year Anthony’s family celebrate his birthday with a big birthday bash and they were not going to let coronavirus stop them, so celebrated with a drive by celebration.

People were encouraged to honk and be as crazy as they wanted as they passed in cars and on floats.  There were posters and decorations and local fireman attended with  sirens and lights in their cars, while Monroe police directed the traffic to ensure the event went smoothly.

Anthony's birthday celebration.

Anthony's birthday celebration.

Female carriers of x-linked myotubular myopathy invited to join a new study

A new European study, led by Dr Nicol Voermans of Radboud University Medical Centre, The Netherlands, is looking into the possible muscle symptoms in female carriers of myotubular myopathy. The study is keen to recruit as many female relatives of boys and men with x-linked myotubular myopathy as possible, plus manifesting and confirmed female carriers too.

Bhawana with Wendy and Anne from the Myotubular Trust.

Dr Voermans has a special interest and expertise in congenital myopathies and the study team consists of Professor Ulrike Schara, Essen (Germany), Professor Heinz Jungbluth, London (UK) and Dr Carsten Bonnemann, NIH (USA).

This study concerns all female relatives of boys and men with the x-linked form of myotubular myopathy whether symptomatic or not, including grandmothers, mothers, sisters, aunts and cousins, with the aim being is to visualise the entire spectrum of symptoms in carriers.

The study consists of a number of digital questionnaires which you can fill in at home. A possible follow up of this study will be performed in the future, when the coronavirus situation allows it. The follow up would consist of some simple neurological tests.

The results of the study will give a better understanding of the disease and improve the health care for female carriers. In addition, it can contribute to clinical trial preparedness.

To be able to participate in this study, you must be 18 years or older and you must be able to fill in the digital questionnaires. This study is currently limited to Europe.

If you are interested in participating and would you like to receive more information about this, email congenitalemyopathie.neuro@radboudumc.nl to express your interest.

Hospital

On 12 March 2020 an episode of the programme Hospital featured Hari, a child diagnosed with myotubular myopathy. The programme followed Hari’s story and was about situations that cause hospital beds to be blocked.

Hari with dad Michael and mum Ellen.

For the last ten years, NHS staff have been working to meet the ever-rising demand of patients coming through the front door but increasingly, there is another pressure – after they admit a patient to hospital and have treated them, how and when will they get them out again?

With NHS ‘bed blocking’ numbers at their highest level since 2017, for those who are medically fit to leave, multi billion pound cuts to social and community care services have left a shortage of care home beds, equipment, staff and housing, effectively stranding these patients in hospital. With a duty to oversee safe discharges, this leaves the NHS no choice but to keep these medically fit patients in hospital.

Nationally every year, 330,000 patients are staying in hospital for more than 21 days. To the NHS, these people as known as ‘super stranded’. Hari is one of these patients.

Research award for Tamoxifen clinical trial in the UK

The Myotubular Trust has recently joined forces with Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity and Sparks, the children’s medical research charity to co-fund a clinical trial, following a joint research grant call in 2019.

Studies funded by Myotubular Trust grants between 2014 and 2016, discovered that Tamoxifen, an anti-cancer drug, can significantly improve the symptoms associated with x-linked myotubular myopathy. Tamoxifen also has the benefit of having low side effects in both adults and children. It is not costly, is widely available and is already being taken safely by children for a range of other conditions.

The aim of the grant award is to prepare for and run a clinical trial to test how well Tamoxifen works in improving motor and respiratory function. The trial will be led by Dr Giovanni Baranello, and Professor Francesco Muntoni, at the University College London (UCL) Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health. If the study is successful, it could provide the first widely available therapy for myotubular myopathy, either as a stand alone treatment for patients not eligible for gene therapy or other treatments, or as a valuable additional treatment.

Funding the preparation

New research grants take time to get up and running, particularly when they involve the complexity of setting up a clinical trial team. Therefor Myotubular Trust has already made a second, separate grant to the great Ormond Street Hospital research team. This grant funds a clinical trial co-ordinator who is already working on the regulatory and ethical paperwork and processes to ensure that the trial can begin as soon as possible.

Current grant has already funded the work of identifying the dose of Tamoxifen

Before a clinical trial can begin in humans, work needs to be done to decide what dose of a drug will be both the safest to take and the most likely to work. The Myotubular Trust 2018 – 2020 grant to Dr James Dowling at Sick Kids Canada has already funded this ‘dose finding’ work, ready for the trial to begin both in the UK and in the US and Canada too.

For further information about this grant, visit the Myotubular Trust website below.

Myotubular Trust logo

Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity and Sparks logo.

Gordon W. Evans Art Leadership Award

Connie Bonfy lives in Kansas, USA and is diagnosed as an x-linked manifesting carrier of myotubular myopathy. She was recently awarded the Gordon W. Evans Art Leadership Award at Wichita’s Arts Council 50th Annual Art Awards.

Connie Bonfy

The annual Arts Council Awards were established in 1969 by the Wichita/Sedgwick County Arts and Humanities Council to recognise and honour businesses, foundations and individuals who have consistently supported the arts and humanities in the Wichita community.  You can learn more about Connie and the award below.

A graduate of Emporia State University (Drawing and Painting, Psychology) and Wichita State University (MA) in arts education/community development, Connie’s career has taken her from leading a small rural Kansas arts council, to Santa Fe, New Mexico and the Desert Chorale – a professional chorus, to a metropolitan ballet company – Ballet Wichita and more recently to Salina Arts and Humanities, a department of the City of Salina. Her diverse career also includes serving as the head grant writer for two community colleges in Kansas as well as the performing arts presenter at one. 

Connie is also a talented artist in her own right, including printmaking and painting in her studio and exhibiting regionally. Solo exhibitions include Cafe Life (2012) and Waiting for the Bus (2016) as well as several group shows.

In 2000 Connie was honoured by Kansas Governor Bill Graves with the Governor’s Arts Award for her lifelong committed work as an advocate for the arts. In 2013, she was selected to be part of the Climate Reality Project, lead by former Vice President Al Gore.

Officially retired, Connie is currently the CEO of Prairie Muses, a non profit organisation dedicated to celebrating the arts and engaging community through music, developing a short course for adults who wish to learn more about how to understand and view art and retraining to teach Art Appreciation online at Butler Community College.

Easyfundraising

The Myotubular Trust Easyfundraising eStore raises donations for the charity everytime a purchase is made there. The store has now raised a grand total of £1,429.21 for research into centronuclear and myotubular myopathy. If you haven’t heard of Easyfundraising before, you can see how it works in the short film below.

With Christmas fast approaching, The Information Point asked The Myotubular Trust to tell us why the donations are so important. Mel Spring, Communications Officer at the Trust said:

‘We are incredibly grateful for the regular donations that we receive via Easyfundraising and to those who support us this way.  We love that donations come to us at absolutely no extra cost to our supporters, and by doing something that many of us do on a regular basis – online shopping.  We were impressed at just how quick and easy it is to register and that you can even set up a reminder that pops up whenever you shop with a store that is registered with the scheme. The money that is raised on Easyfundraising is used to fund research and whilst each individual purchase may raise anything from a few pence to a few pounds, when several people join forces and register to support us, it really can make a difference. Please do consider supporting us this way – there’s no better time to register than in the lead in to the festive season when many of us become more frequent online shoppers.’

If you would like to learn more about how to fundraise for Myotubular Trust or about how they spend the money that is raised in their name, visit the Myotubular Trust website. 

 

Easyfundraising logo.

A decade of connections: US MTM-CNM Family Conference 2019

This year the MTM-CNM Family Connection hosted their sixth biennial US MTM-CNM Family Conference. Below they write about the event. Photos courtesy of Levi Gershkowitz of Living in the Light.

Erin, Mark and Marie from the MTM CNM Family Connection at the MTM - CNM Family Conference 2019.

Erin, Mark and Marie from the MTM CNM Family Connection at the MTM – CNM Family Conference 2019.

We are so grateful that we had the opportunity to celebrate ‘A Decade of Connections’ while hosting the sixth biennial US MTM-CNM Family Conference in St Louis, MO from  19 – 21 July 2019. Approximately 175 people attended the conference gathering 48 families and over 30 professionals from our rare disease community, as well as so many families represented in spirit who were not able to travel.

Our conference theme ‘Through the Gateway: Expanding Possibilities’” echoed St Louis’ iconic arch and gave our community an opportunity to reflect on ‘gateway moments’ that attendees have experienced on this rare disease journey – whether living with MTM/CNM, caring for someone, or working tirelessly for our community and look with hope towards the expanding possibilities before us.

The Kalejaiye family.

The Kalejaiye family.

We were grateful to have several of our lead researchers and pharma industry professionals working on behalf of our community join us and share the very latest on MTM and CNM research and advancements in treatments and also engage in an interactive clinical care discussion along with patients and families.   A strength of our conference is also providing medical professionals an opportunity to hear our patient and family stories, experiences, and insights as well, and collaboratively learn together.

Clinical Care Panel Discussion at the MTM-CNM Family Conference 2019.

Clinical Care Panel Discussion at the MTM-CNM Family Conference 2019.

Presentations covered such topics as genetics, diagnosis, clinical care, breathing, carrier issues, and the development of three potential treatments.  The three potential treatments that were presented at the conference this year included: Gene Therapy sponsored by Audentes, ASO Knockdown of DMN2 sponsored by Dynacure and re-purposing an existing drug (Tamoxifen) lead by Dr Jim Dowling’s Lab at The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto.

We are also appreciative of the collaborative patient/family and professional discussion forum that followed the formal presentations on Saturday afternoon.  This year’s focus was on exploring clinical care guidelines and the potential need to expand resources and research in this area to ensure that optimal care is given to our loved ones.  It was an exceptional opportunity for both families and professionals to exchange information and experiences with each other in thoughtful and open dialog.

Attendees at the MTM_CNM Family Conference 2019.

Attendees at the MTM_CNM Family Conference 2019.

Our conference certainly highlighted the ‘Expanding Possibilities’ for our MTM-CNM community both in terms of promising treatments in development, as well as activating our community to become engaged partners and participants in the drug development process.  Our MTM-CNM Family Connection team held a panel on the importance of legislative advocacy and announced the development of COLA (Committee on Legislative Advocacy).  We will continue to educate, advocate, and activate our community to be the best advocates for our loved ones as we continue to pursue therapeutic treatments for all.

Families and individuals also shared valuable information about living with MTM and CNM and helpful resources with each other.  Strong connections were made over the weekend and the strength and support of our MTM-CNM Family Conference community was palpable. It gave us energy to continue our journeys and we made lasting memories to carry home with us.

US MTM-CNM family conference group photo.

US MTM-CNM family conference group photo.