Affecting more than 115 million women globally, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is not considered a rare disorder. However, it’s often underdiagnosed, under-researched, and under-discussed. Diagnosis usually comes after other disorders have been ruled out, a process that often takes two years or more for women.
To advance understanding and support for people with the disorder, PCOS Challenge: The National Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Association partnered with Luna to raise the collective voice of those affected and drive patient-focused research.
“One of our key goals is to unite the major PCOS stakeholders in the largest organized effort to address gaps in care and to find a cure for PCOS,” says William Patterson, founding Executive Board member and current Director of Public Affairs at PCOS Challenge.
PCOS Challenge has had a long history of elevating those affected by PCOS as partners in research. “Many investigators miss a huge opportunity by not fully engaging patients as true partners in research and discovery. There is a tendency to design studies with little-to-no meaningful patient involvement and to seek a rubber stamp from patients,” he says.
“We see the frequent misalignment between government, clinical, and patient research priorities which often stem from not listening to patients from the earliest stages of research and its impact on treatment, care, and counseling,” Patterson says. “We see this as an important means of leveraging patient insights, priorities, lived experiences, and skills to fill gaps in the literature, disrupt outdated narratives negatively impacting patient care, and accelerate discovery.”
Many problems exist regarding access to care and quality of care for those with PCOS, stemming from a lack of focus on health policy, underfunding of research, and the type of research being funded, he said.
“Historically, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) funded about 70% of PCOS research. While the NICHD has done tremendous work and contributed greatly to our understanding of PCOS, its mission is largely limited to human development and reproductive health. When you have only one institute funding a majority of PCOS research, it ultimately creates a skew in the literature. In this case, the skew is largely toward the reproductive aspects of PCOS,” he says.
This equates to PCOS being viewed as a reproductive disorder, not a lifelong debilitating condition that comes with other co-morbidities, including mental health, metabolic, cardiovascular, endometrial cancer, liver disease, and other health risks.
“Through our awareness and advocacy efforts, we’ve expanded the conversation around PCOS, so patients and health professionals are more aware of the co-morbidities associated with the disorder and the impact of PCOS on people throughout their lifespan.”
This is why a patient registry is critical, says Patterson.
Propeling discoveries for PCOS research
Two studies have already been launched: the PCOS Challenge Economic Burden Study, which examines the intangible and indirect costs of having PCOS, including quality of life and work productivity, and the PCOS Pregnancy and Maternal Health Study, which aims to identify the gaps in education about pregnancy, and maternal and child health to improve awareness and counseling.
The medical literature suggests women with PCOS are at greater risk of experiencing maternal health complications, like preeclampsia, pregnancy-induced hypertension, and pre-term delivery. These two studies will help provide a clearer estimate of the economic burden and true costs of having PCOS in terms of quality of life and work productivity and help close gaps in awareness, education, and counseling related to pregnancy and maternal and child health risks for those affected by PCOS.
“We see the Luna platform and our patient-powered registry as a means to focus on the questions that patients want to be answered,” Patterson said.
Patient-led research provides mentoring opportunities for investigators
PCOS Challenge is working strategically to reach as many individuals as possible and to empower multiple stakeholders through its patient-powered registry, The PCOS Challenge Study. One of the advantages of the PCOS Challenge partnership with Luna is that it helps the organization achieve one of its goals: getting more early-career scientists involved in PCOS research.
“We see a lack of mentoring and development opportunities for early-stage PCOS investigators,” he says. “In connection with the PCOS registry, we are creating an early-career forum to help these emerging investigators receive mentoring opportunities from senior investigators in the field where we have relationships.”
Luna’s suite of tools and services connects communities with researchers to accelerate health discoveries. With participation from more than 180 countries and communities advancing causes including disease-specific, public health, environmental, and emerging interests, Luna empowers these collectives to gather a wide range of data—health records, lived experience, disease history, genomics, and more—for research.
Luna gives academia and industry everything they need from engagement with study participants to data analysis across multiple modalities using a common data model. The platform is compliant with clinical regulatory requirements and international consumer data privacy laws.
By providing privacy-protected individuals a way to continually engage, Luna transforms the traditional patient-disconnected database into a dynamic, longitudinal discovery environment where researchers, industry, and community leaders can leverage a range of tools to surface insights and trends, study disease natural history and biomarkers, and enroll in clinical studies and trials.