BACKGROUND: We report here selected findings from a mixed-methods study investigating the role of Australian rare disease patient organisations (RDPOs) in research. Despite there being many examples of RDPOs that have initiated and supported significant scientific advances, there is little information - and none at all in Australia - about RDPOs generally, and their research-related goals, activities, and experiences. This information is a pre-requisite for understanding what RDPOs bring to research and how their involvement could be strengthened. METHODS: We reviewed 112 RDPO websites, conducted an online survey completed by 61 organisational leaders, and interviewed ten leaders and two key informants. Quantitative and qualitative data were analysed using basic descriptive statistics and content analysis, respectively. RESULTS: Although most are small volunteer-based groups, more than 90 % of the surveyed RDPOs had a goal to promote or support research on the diseases affecting their members. Nearly all (95 %) had undertaken at least one research-related activity - such as providing funding or other support to researchers - in the previous five years. However, RDPO leaders reported considerable challenges in meeting their research goals. Difficulties most frequently identified were insufficient RDPO resources, and a perceived lack of researchers interested in studying their diseases. Other concerns included inadequate RDPO expertise in governing research "investments", and difficulty engaging researchers in the organisation's knowledge and ideas. We discuss these perceived challenges in the light of two systemic issues: the proliferation of and lack of collaboration between RDPOs, and the lack of specific governmental policies and resources supporting rare disease research and patient advocacy in Australia. CONCLUSION: This study provides unique information about the experiences of RDPOs generally, rather than experiences retrospectively reported by RDPOs associated with successful research. We describe RDPOs' valuable contributions to research, while also providing insights into the difficulties for small organisations trying to promote research. The study is relevant internationally because of what it tells us about RDPOs; however, we draw attention to specific opportunities in Australia to support RDPOs' involvement in research, for the benefit of current and future generations affected by rare diseases.
Pinto, D., Martin, D., & Chenhall, R. (2016). The involvement of patient organisations in rare disease research: A mixed methods study in Australia. Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases, 11(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13023-016-0382-6