Look for my blog posts to appear regularly, if sparsely, on the website of the US's National Eczema Association starting soon. That was the upshot of a trip I took today with my 3-year-old daughter Voov to meet the NEA's CEO Julie Block at the organization's headquarters in San Rafael, California--which is only a 20-minute drive from where I live. Isn't it convenient!
Voov inherited my genes for eczema. She gets it on her hands--red, crusty inflammation and cracks that won't heal. But she's good-spirited. During today's summit she entertained herself with Julie's collection of binder clips and colored markers, and afterward sang "Jingle Bells" most of the way home.
Julie and I had a great two-hour conversation about eczema science writing, blogging, social media, and nonprofit fundraising. We agreed that eczema is covered only very shallowly in the mass media, despite 20% of children being affected and 2-3% of adults. There's a need for information about causes and treatment. Likewise, the blogosphere has very few voices covering eczema. On the web in general, overly commercial sites touting treatments of dubious worth tend to dominate. By contrast, the NEA provides a credible forum on its website where patients and parents can go to get scientifically valid information about eczema. Julie is particularly proud of the NEA's Facebook page, which enables them to engage almost in real-time with the community; she's happy, though, that a number of more conservative (not in the political sense) users tamp down the emotion and opinions that eczema can churn up.
Supporting basic and applied eczema research is a priority for the NEA, which offers a limited number of grants at the smaller end of the spectrum (around $100k). Julie points out that winning such grants, from a patient advocacy organization, can make a scientist's application for larger grants much more attractive to the NIH. In my day job, I also see the effect that "smaller" grants can have if given at the crucial precommercial stage where a scientist is doing experiments to validate research before spinning off a company. It's with the broad goal of raising donations for the NEA to fund research that I'm going to be writing blog posts for the NEA website (probably every month or two). As I do on this blog, I'll be covering recent advances in the field, showing that the field is active: steroids, Protopic, and Elidel are not the best that science can do for eczema patients. Things will get better in the future, and it's up to people like us to make it happen sooner rather than later.
(What's up with that wig in the photo? The NEA shares office space with the National Alopecia Areata Foundation, which has a surplus of wigs generously donated by Revlon. I'm balding and wanted to feel, just for a moment, what it was like to have a glorious head of hair.)