It’s Only A Theory!

Photo of Adam Zwan

-By Adam Zwan

With the abnormal cold weather that is occurring in the United States for the past few weeks there have been a high number of comments regarding Global Warming.  Just a few of the comments that can be heard all over the United States are:

“I am really enjoying the Global Warming.”

“What’s with all this snow, I thought Global Warming was making everything hotter.”

“Ice again next week, this is not Global Warming, this is Global Freezing!”

The problem with the Global Warming theory is that it only predicts what occurs during part of the year and so during winter months the theory gets mocked.  Sometimes words alone do not explain everything they represent.  For instance, having Wolfram Syndrome does not mean that I am genetically linked to wolves or get the urge to howl at the moon.  Wolfram Syndrome is a genetic disorder that attacks the central nervous system and Global Warming is just a theory regarding climate changes.  The theory is scientifically correct.  Climates have shown warmer temperatures, glaciers/icebergs are melting, and birds are migrating further north than ever before.

When interacting with other people who mock a theory, like Global Warming, I feel it important to explain things a little further.  Due to human activity, the ozone layer around Earth’s surface is being damaged and depleted.  The ozone layer around Earth has two important aspects: block sun rays to prevent overheating, and capture heat to prevent freezing climates.  In essence, when the ozone is removed Earth will experience hotter summers and colder winters; both of which are being experienced at present.  It is only natural to mock or criticize something after an initial glance, I’m guilty of it.  I find myself taking back things I have said or thought after doing research and proving myself wrong and that has served as a valuable lesson in life.  As a result, I do not believe everything I hear before doing research and coming up with my own conclusions.

Research Reports From Washington University

Introducing… the Washington University Wolfram Syndrome Study Group!

By Dr. Tamara Hershey

Photo of Dr. Tamara Hershey

Dr. Tamara Hershey

I would like to tell you about the big picture of research and clinical activities at Washington University focused on Wolfram Syndrome. There are three parts to this effort 1) Diagnostic markers and treatment  development for Wolfram syndrome using animal models and human cells, led by Dr. Fumi Urano (see his previous blog postings here); 2) Patient-oriented natural history studies, led by me — Dr. Tamara Hershey) to determine the trajectory of Wolfram Syndrome-related neurological changes, providing the necessary background information for future clinical trials and 3) Expert clinical screening and care for Wolfram Syndrome, led by Dr. Bess Marshall. Dr. Marshall and other WU physicians now have the most in-depth clinical experience with Wolfram Syndrome in the nation and perhaps the world, providing the basis for a true clinical center of excellence.

Photo of Wash U Team of Drs.

(Left to Right): Dr. Fumihiko Urano, Dr. Tamara Hershey, and Dr. Bess Marshall

Fumi, Bess and I work as a team on all three of these aspects of Wolfram Syndrome research and care. We are in almost daily contact with each other to push our work further and problem solve together. It has been a privilege to work with both of them on something we are all so passionate about. In addition, we work with a large team of dedicated clinical and research faculty and staff, who we collectively refer to as the WU Wolfram Syndrome Study Group. Their names are below. I want you to know that there are a lot of talented and dedicated people here at WU working hard on the behalf of all Wolfram Syndrome families!

Photo of Dr. Timothy Barrett

Dr. Timothy Barrett

We are also in contact with collaborators across the world, including Dr. Tim Barrett in the UK and others, to pool our experimental and clinical data and share measurement tools and ideas. We hope that in the future, these collaborations will provide the basis for a multi-center international clinical trial network. We are committed to being ready to implement an efficient, high quality clinical trial, as soon as a safe drug is identified with strong experimental evidence suggesting that it might help.

WU Wolfram Syndrome Study Group Leaders:  F. Urano (Medicine), T. Hershey (Psychiatry, Radiology, Neurology) and B. Marshall (Pediatrics)  P. Austin, M.D. (Surgery) G. Earhart, Ph.D. (Physical Therapy) S. Eisenstein, Ph.D. (Psychiatry) J. Garbow (Radiology) J. Hoekel, O.D. (Ophthalmology) T. Hullar, M.D. (Otolaryngology) R. Karzon, Ph.D. (Audiology & Communication Sciences) H. M. Lugar, M.A. (Psychiatry) L. Manwaring, M.S. (Pediatrics) A. R. Paciorkowski, M.D. (Neurology, U Rochester) K. Pickett, Ph.D. (Physical Therapy) S. Ranck, MSW (Psychiatry) J. Rutlin, B.S. (Psychiatry) J. Shimony, M.D., Ph.D. (Radiology) A. Viehoever, M.D. (Neurology) N. H. White M.D., CDE (Pediatrics) In memoriam: A. Permutt, M.D. (Medicine) J. Wasson B.S. (Medicine)

Living With Wolfram Syndrome – Lauren Gibilisco

“Some Like It Hot and Some Sweat When The Heat Is On”- Hypersensitivity to Heat

Hello Everyone,

I told you last week the main symptoms of Wolfram Syndrome.  Today I am going to talk about a lesser symptom that greatly impacts my life. This symptom is hypersensitivity to heat. My body has a problem regulating temperatures.  “Some Like It Hot” only begins to describe my house.

Photo of Lauren GibiliscoFor those that don’t know me, I am from Nebraska.  The weather here can be very windy and unpredictable.  This last week has been extremely cold (for normal people).  The temperature was in single digits with wind chills below zero.  We also had three days where the regular temperature was -10 to -15 with wind chills -20 to -30. In simple terms, I hate the heat and love the cold.

Here is where I have a constant argument with my mom.  She wants me to wear a coat in the winter.  She lectures me on how the cold can affect my skin.  I hate wearing a coat.  It always makes me hot no matter what the temperature.  Here is how I respond to people.  “I never wear a coat unless I can see my breath.”  Ha-ha, I can never see my breath so I always win that argument. I like to exercise at home, especially during the winter, so when I get hot I can just go outside to “chill out”.

In the summer, it can get very hot and humid here.  This makes me a prisoner in my home.  I sweat profusely and I am unable to be outside for any length of time. I can no longer take walks, go to amusement parks or baseball games. The only activity that works for me is swimming.  The cold water keeps my body cool.  My parents had to install a separate central air conditioner upstairs just to keep me cool.  I don’t like it to be any warmer than 65 degrees.  So picture this, it is 100 degrees outside and my mom is wearing a sweater and socks trying to stay warm inside the house.  So what a family we are.  I hate to wear a coat in the winter and my mom has to wear a sweater in the summer.  Oh well I’ve always loved being unique.

Have a great week everyone and enjoy the weather. ☺

Living With Wolfram Syndrome – Adam Zwan

The Gift Has Already Been Given!

Photo of Adam Zwan receiving his latest Taekwondo belt.Starting in January 2013 I was asked by a gentleman to help him run his academy teaching Taekwondo.  Being physically active and enjoying exercise as much as I do, I did not blink before I agreed to help out.  I was told that class members would range from 3 to 16 years old and that I would be using the art of Taekwondo to teach self defense as well as improve behavioral aspects within the community, at home, and at school.

Anyone has the ability to throw a punch but it takes technique and skill to defend one’s self and avoid physical confrontations  Each class involves teaching proper form and usage of Taekwondo as well as life skills, such as respect, discipline, self control, honor, loyalty, setting goals in education, and much more.  The physical art is tested through the performance of various movements. Progress reports and parent meetings reveal improved behavior outside the academy.

Following months of teaching and training several classes, I was pleasantly informed that my lessons of both Taekwondo and life skills were promoting successful results and the parents of class members wanted to thank me by giving me a gift of some kind.  I was asked to think of something I would really like to receive as a gift.  A full-time job, a girlfriend, and 20-20 vision were at the top of my wish list, none of which could be given or bought for me but rather accomplished on my own.

Nearing the end of my thoughts about something I would like to receive as a ‘Thank you” for making a difference in the lives of others, I wrote a letter to the parents of my class members.  In short, I told the parents that “The gift has already been given.”  Hearing that my lessons of Taekwondo and life skills have improved the lives and behaviors of class members was one of the greatest gifts I could ever receive.  Knowing that I am making a difference in the community as well as in the lives of others is reason enough to wakeup every day with a smile.

Living With Wolfram Syndrome – Adam Zwan

How To Slow Wolfram Syndrome Progression?

Photo of Adam Zwan Excercising

Adam (in white) knows how to keep moving.

Steps toward a cure for diabetes and Wolfram Syndrome are being made and successful results are occurring in scientific research.  The treatments are not yet available for Wolfram patients so it’s wise to attempt slowing Wolfram progression until treatments are available.  In addition to being a Wolfram patient I am also a huge advocate for correcting one’s health on one’s own without the use of prescriptions.

From the age of 7-years old to 16-years old I was placed on nine different prescription drugs to treat my various ailments, ranging from diabetes to kidney failure to elevated cholesterol.  Upon my own research, I discovered that each prescription drug will eventually require an additional prescription for resulting side effects. I took it to heart and disciplined myself to edit lifestyle and correct health issues without the use of medications; today I am down to three prescriptions and doing very well.Photo of Adam Zwan Excercising

Diabetics without Wolfram can experience nerve damage simply due to uncontrolled glucose levels.  Thus, a Wolfram patient, whose central nervous system is genetically experiencing nerve damage, along with uncontrolled diabetes will be faced with hurried progression of kidney failure, vision loss, and hearing damage.  Therefore, I have spent a great deal of my life in becoming physically active and nutritionally sound so that I may more closely take control of my diabetes, my health, and my life.  Through a daily exercise routine and a low sugar/carbohydrate diet I have successfully kept my blood glucose levels, cholesterol, blood pressure, kidney function, vision, and hearing at a stable and satisfactory quality.

Photo of Adam Zwan excercisingIn my visits to Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis during the annual Wolfram research event, doctors have told me that my lifestyle choices have proven to slow the progression of nerve damage caused by diabetes and Wolfram Syndrome.  In short, I was told to keep doing what I have been doing.

In January 2013, Adam Zwan was featured by the NBC affiliate in his hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina, WCET News. The story was to show what it is like for Adam to live  with Wolfram syndrome. That night, Adam began to experience severe abdominal pain and was rushed to the hospital where he remained for a week. Despite the delay from Adam’s hospital stay, the news team came back to finish their story.  Here is the five minute video on our good friend, Adam Zwan, where you can see for yourself the courage and spirit Adam exudes every day.

Living With Wolfram Syndrome – Lauren’s Story

Being Sick and Having Surgery, NOT A Good Combination

Hello everyone!  As you know I was going to have my surgery on Wednesday, but unfortunately on Monday night I was up every hour throwing up.  I luckily didn’t feel sick but couldn’t keep anything down.  My blood sugar started to drop a little so I drank some juice but threw it up right away.  Luckily this happened later in the night so my blood sugar started to go back up again because I needed to give my insulin shot.  Fortunately I stopped throwing up around 8:00 am.  This was good so I could probably have the surgery if I didn’t get sick again, but bad because I was tired and weak.

Photo of Lauren and Pat GibiliscoI was able to sleep most of the day, but my mom who stayed up all night with me, had to stay awake during the day so when I needed up she could help me because I was so weak.  She was very exhausted and still had to drive me two hours in the next morning for my surgery.  She had to wait for me during the surgery and then drive 2 hours home that night.

I feel bad that my disease has to affect others in my family. My surgery went well.  I got to go home that day so that was good.  The surgery did not paralyze my bladder so this made me very happy.  It’s still too early to tell but everything seems to be working well and better than before.  I didn’t feel good for the next two days after the surgery but I am feeling good now.  Hopefully next week I can tell you that the botox is working very well.

Living With Wolfram Syndrome – Adam’s Story

Photo of Adam ZwanSacrifice it or never experience it?

Early in life I began having to face several limitations and make many sacrifices due to Wolfram Syndrome.  With the diagnosis of Type I diabetes at 7 years old I was asked to limit and sacrifice enriched white flour and sugars in order to manage glucose levels.  Staying away from sugary and or starchy foods, like pasta, candy, cookies, and rice, I gained a passion for high fibrous fruits and vegetables along with drinking over a gallon of water each day.  As time went on I allowed initiating a network of friends and getting involved in intimate relationships to be placed on the back burner so I could manage my health through nutrition and physical activity.

Around age 16 I was faced with the diagnosis of kidney disease (Diabetes Insipitus of the Kidneys) and was asked to limit water intake to drinking only when thirsty.  Now, I cannot drink a lot of water during the day to decrease hunger, which was not to difficult to deal with but another limitation none the less.

Following the diagnosis of kidney disease and Wolfram Syndrome I began having issues with my digestive system (Autonomic Nerve Dysfunction and Gastro Paresis).  My high fibrous diet and Wolfram were causing my digestive system to shutdown sporadically.  After three different occurrences of sitting in the hospital for several days hunched over in pain with nothing to eat or drink, I was placed on a low residue diet (high protein – low fiber).  Nutritionist and other experts advised me to increase the amount of fat in my diet to make up for caloric deficits.  However, having Gastro Paresis knocked a high fat diet out of left field because fat slows down the digestive system causing glucose levels to fluctuate.  At this point in time 85% of my current diet has to be sacrificed in order to keep my digestive system in working condition.  It is tough getting filled up every day on eggs, yogurt, meat, and seafood, but telling myself that “It could be better but it could always be worst!” makes things easier to deal with.

The next big stepping stone was having my driver’s license taken away due to visual difficulties at 25 years old.  Independent transportation taken away is yet to be the most difficult thing to get used to.  Depending on family and neighbors to transport me to and from work, the pharmacy, bank, gym, and the grocery store creates a conflict when trying to make my own schedule, develop a social life, and maintain a career.

All in all, I would have to say that I would rather never experience something than to have it taken away later down the road.  It is easy to get by without a girlfriend because I have never had one and so I do not really know what I am missing.  On the other hand, having things, like food groups and a driver’s license, taken away makes me wish with all my heart that I could continue or have them back.

The Power of Wolfram: The Weapon to Combat Type 1 Diabetes

Why do I study such a rare disease as Wolfram Syndrome?

I am often asked, “Why do you study such a rare disease, Wolfram?” My answer is, “It is the weapon to combat common diseases.” My secret answer is, “I want to help Wolfram patients and their families.”

Why it is so important to study Wolfram syndrome, a rare condition characterized by juvenile-onset diabetes, optic atrophy, and neurodegeneration? It is a frightening condition. Wolfram syndrome is always on my mind just like pediatric cancer was always on my mind when I was a young doctor (some people still think that I am a young doctor…thank you). I just want to help them. That’s all I want. This is my last research project.From a scientific standpoint, I always believe that there is a tremendous benefit for us to study Wolfram syndrome. Increasing evidence now indicates that endoplasmic reticulum (ER) dysfunction is involved in more common diseases, especially type 1 diabetes. I propose that Wolfram syndrome is the “weapon to combat type 1 diabetes.“Despite its rarity, Wolfram syndrome probably represents the best model currently available for identifying treatments for diseases associated with ER dysfunction. Wolfram syndrome arises from mutation of a single gene (WFS1), a gene shown to be also involved in β cell dysfunction and death in other forms of diabetes mellitus. Its monogenic etiology makes Wolfram syndrome more amenable to dissecting out the mechanisms underpinning cellular responses to ER dysfunction than other diabetic conditions, such as type 1 diabetes mellitus, in which multiple factors typically interact to produce the disease manifestations.

Photo of Dr. Fumihiko Urano

Dr. Fumihiko Urano

Dr. Fumihiko Urano a renowned physician and scientist developing therapeutics and diagnostics for Wolfram syndrome and juvenile onset diabetes.  His areas of expertise include Wolfram syndrome, type 1 diabetes, Pediatric pathology and genetics and Molecular Endocrinology.  He is currently employed at the Washington University School of Medicine where he holds the Samuel E. Schechter Professor of Medicine, 2012 – present.

Living With Wolfram Syndrome – Lauren’s Story

I’m Getting Botox, But Not The Way You’d Think

Photo of Lauren GibiliscoToday I am going to visit my grandmother celebrating her 80th birthday. I love my grandma and it is always fun to get together with all my relatives. After my doctor visit on Monday, I found out that my urologist is going to try something new for my bladder issues. I have a neuro stimulator implanted for my bladder that constantly spasms. It worked really well before but lately its not working as well. I get up almost hourly every night to go to the bathroom. This really tires me out because I never get any sleep. He is going to inject botox into my bladder to keep the spasms from occurring. He said he has had a lot of luck with this. He said it was done often on patients with MS or Cerebal Palsy. So I agreed to try it. It will last for one year. The doctor also had to inform me that there was a chance that it could paralyze my bladder. This thought really scared me. I thought, I get all the weird things happening to my body, so does that mean that I will have a paralyzed bladder? It this occurs, I would have to catherize myself for a year. Even though I am reluctant to do it, I will if it means I could get some sleep. My mom wishes they would inject it into my mouth so I quit talking so much. My mom is mad because the doctor won’t take a little extra and apply it to my mom’s face. LOL.

Well I have had my presurgical checkup and will have the surgery done on Wednesday. It is a 2 hour trip both ways to get to Omaha where my doctor is. I can’t wait to see if it works or not. Today I saw my psychiatrist. It was just a quick visit. He wanted to know how my constant checking things were doing. Was the medication doing what it is supposed to do for my bipolar diagnosis? It was all fine. We have to make a 1 ½ hour trip each way to see him. We are only there for a total of ½ hour. I feel bad my mom has to drive me everywhere. This has been a busy week. I will let you know next week how the surgery went.

Patient-Based Therapeutics Part 3

Research Update from
Dr. Fumihiko Urano

Patient-Based Therapeutics Part 3
Photo of Dr. Bess Marshall, Dr. Fumi Urano, Dr. Tamara Hershey

LEFT TO RIGHT: Dr. Bess Marshall, Dr. Fumi Urano, Dr. Tamara Hershey

Instead of introducing my research activities,  I would like to introduce my colleagues today. I have a lot of colleagues who have been helping me develop diagnostics and therapeutics for Wolfram at the Washington University Medical Center. Without their help, I cannot accomplish anything. I give many lectures and talks on Wolfram syndrome, but I feel that I am just a spokesperson or a salesman of our team.

Today I would like to introduce Dr. Bess Marshall and Dr. Tamara Hershey. Dr. Marshall is a pediatric endocrinologist and serves as a medical director of our annual Wolfram clinic. Dr. Marshall is an experienced, smart, and caring physician scientist. Dr. Hershey is a neuropsychologist and serves as a scientific director of our Wolfram clinic. Dr. Hershey is thoughtful, smart, and extremely good at getting things done. They are powerful driving force of our Wolfram project! I always appreciate their continuous support and advice. Here is their picture! (From left to right: Dr. Marshall, Fumi, and Dr. Hershey)

Dr. Fumihiko Urano a renowned physician and scientist developing therapeutics and diagnostics for Wolfram syndrome and juvenile onset diabetes.  His areas of expertise include Wolfram syndrome, type 1 diabetes, Pediatric pathology and genetics and Molecular Endocrinology.  He is currently employed at the Washington University School of Medicine where he holds the Samuel E. Schechter Professor of Medicine, 2012 – present.