Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is a progressive, life-limiting muscle-wasting disease. Although no curative treatment is yet available, comprehensive multidisciplinary care has increased life expectancy significantly in recent decades. An international consensus care publication in 2010 outlined best-practice care, which includes corticosteroid treatment, respiratory, cardiac, orthopedic and rehabilitative interventions to address disease manifestations. While disease specialists are largely aware of these care standards, local physicians responsible for the day-to-day care of patients and families may be less familiar. To facilitate optimal care, a one-page document has been generated from published care recommendations, summarizing the key elements of comprehensive care for people living with DMD (“Imperatives for Duchenne muscular dystrophy). This document was developed through an international collaboration between Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy (PPMD), United Parent Projects Muscular Dystrophy (UPPMD) and TREAT-NMD.
Drug trials in children engage with many ethical issues, from drug-related safety concerns to communication with patients and parents, and recruitment and informed consent procedures. This paper addresses the field of neuromuscular disorders where the possibility of genetic, mutation-specific treatments, has added new complexity. Not only must trial design address issues of equity of access, but researchers must also think through the implications of adopting a personalised medicine approach, which requires a precise molecular diagnosis, in addition to other implications of developing orphan drugs.
It is against this background of change and complexity that the Project Ethics Council (PEC) was established within the TREAT-NMD EU Network of Excellence. The PEC is a high level advisory group that draws upon the expertise of its interdisciplinary membership which includes clinicians, lawyers, scientists, parents, representatives of patient organisations, social scientists and ethicists. In this paper we describe the establishment and terms of reference of the PEC, give an indication of the range and depth of its work and provide some analysis of the kinds of complex questions encountered. The paper describes how the PEC has responded to substantive ethical issues raised within the TREAT-NMD consortium and how it has provided a wider resource for any concerned parent, patient, or clinician to ask a question of ethical concern. Issues raised range from science related ethical issues, issues related to hereditary neuromuscular diseases and the new therapeutic approaches and questions concerning patients rights in the context of patient registries and bio-banks. We conclude by recommending the PEC as a model for similar research contexts in rare diseases.