A family doctor shares a mother and father's determination to save their son
This story of a father's search to find a diagnosis, and ultimately a cure, for his son's mystery disease is an inspiration that has set the world of genetic medicine and research abuzz with the possibilities for the future. After Cracking the Code screened on Australian Story Stephen Damiani and his extraordinary ordinary family, have been inundated with messages of support for Mission Massimo.
Stephen has a background in construction economics and risk management. He teamed with geneticist Ryan Taft to map his family's genome in an attempt to discover the cause of his son's illness and in the process developed a diagnostic tool that will revolutionise diagnoses and treatments of diseases as complex and rare as Massimo's leukodystrophy to widespread diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Previously, trying to find a specific gene mutation that might be responsible for a disease was a million times harder than finding a needle in a haystack. Stephen's suggestion that Ryan align the genomes, or DNA blueprints, of himself, his wife Sally as well as Massimo, to find any unique variations and thereby create a smaller haystack was previously untried. Stephen convinced Massimo's neurologist, Dr Rick Leventer at Melbourne's RCH, that it was just a case of technology, statistics, data, and money, but that it could be done.
Once Taft was able to locate and isolate the specific genetic mutation of Massimo's DARS gene, the hunt was on to find other children with the same genetic mutation so that the diagnoses could be confirmed. With the help of Dr Adeline Vanderver at the Children's National Hospital in Washington DC, along with Prof. Marjo van der Knaap and Dr Nicole Wolf in Amsterdam, they were able to locate several other children with DARS mutations and have now moved on to the next phase of Mission Massimo: finding a cure.
Cracking the Code is simultaneously a wonderful family memoir and the story of some mind-blowing discoveries in medicine.
Leah Kaminsky (Author) Leah Kaminsky is a physician and award-winning writer. Her debut novel, The Waiting Room, won the prestigious Voss Literary Prize. She conceived and edited Writer MD, a collection of prominent physician-writers, which starred on Booklist and is co-author of Cracking the Code, with the Damiani family. She holds an MFA in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts. (www.leahkaminsky.com)
Stephen Damiani (Author) Stephen Damiani has a broad commercial background across industry sectors and geographies and more recently in his own start-up businesses. Stephen has no college level medical training but has had to learn much about genetics and bioinformatics over the past five years, since his son Massimo showed signs of having some rare form of Leukodystrophy. He is very keen to see the promise of the human genome project delivering diagnostic and therapeutic benefits over the next decade. Stephen recently established the Mission Massimo Foundation to promote the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of childhood Leukodystrophies. It aims to accelerate the discovery of novel genetic variations responsible for these debilitating conditions and to translate these findings into clinical treatments.
Sally Damiani (Author) Sally Damiani has poured her efforts into understanding all she could about Leukodystrophy since first hearing the term in July 2009. Sally's main mission is keeping Massimo and his twin brothers happy and healthy while they push the development of a future treatment that may arrest the development of Massimo's disease or possibly reverse its debilitating effects. In addition to her family, Sally co-founded the Mission Massimo Foundation with her husband Stephen and works in a senior strategy management role with a global health care organisation. Prior to this Sally held senior strategy, marketing and management consultant roles with Australian and multi-national firms.