Our Dream is Coming True

By Laura King Edwards

I’m thrilled to share news of an incredible milestone achieved last week: FDA clearance of an investigational new drug (IND) application for a novel, one-time gene therapy to treat CLN1 disease (a form of Batten disease). This gives Abeona Therapeutics the green light to begin a Phase 1/2 clinical trial evaluating the treatment in patients. You can read the entire press release on Abeona’s website here.

Though we’re proud of everything we’ve done for children and others like Taylor, this is why we founded Taylor’s Tale more than a decade ago: to spearhead and enable the development of a viable treatment for CLN1 disease. So many called it an impossible mission, but we believed enough to try, even after it became clear Taylor wouldn’t survive long enough to benefit from such an achievement. The photo above was taken in the lab of Dr. Steven Gray, our partner and friend who developed the technology, on the day we celebrated the first birthday of mice treated with his innovative gene therapy approach. It was a happy day and a sign of more good things to come. 

We’re grateful for Steve as well as Ale Rozenberg, who played an instrumental role in moving Steve’s work forward, and the entire team at Abeona Therapeutics for all they’ve done to guide it to the clinical stage. Thanks also to you, our donors, friends and volunteers, for your gifts of love, money and time. Our dream is coming true, but we couldn’t have done it alone. 

Though this is a significant win, our work is far from complete, and I hope you’ll stay on the journey with us. To learn how you can continue supporting Taylor’s Tale, send us a note.


Global Genes Summit Unites Rare Disease Voices

By Judy Mayer

You might assume that a summit dedicated to rare disease would be a negative experience, perhaps even bordering on tragic. You would be wrong.

The Global Genes RARE Patient Advocacy Summit held in Huntington Beach, California, on September 24-25 illustrates the positive energy that defines the rare disease community. Some people showed up in wheelchairs, while others had masks across their mouths and noses. One teenage girl brought her service dog, and one woman brought her oxygen tank.

While rare diseases create a seemingly endless variety of challenges, the summit participants all share the determination to help others and to leave no stone unturned to improve the lives of rare disease patients.  continue reading →


Why a “Miracle” in Ohio isn’t the End of this Story

By Laura King Edwards

The tireless team at CureBatten is in the national news again, this time for funding the launch of a clinical trial at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

My heart is full of hope for Charlotte and Gwenyth Gray, daughters of Hollywood film producer Gordon Gray and his wife, Kristen. I wish I could put into words how much I want this treatment to save their beautiful little girls, Charlotte and Gwenyth. I wish I could explain how much I want the work made possible by CureBatten to spark progress for other devastating neurological diseases, including the many forms of Batten disease that still do not have a treatment. continue reading →


Gene Therapy: The Future is Now

By Laura King Edwards

Predicting the future is a messy game, but “Back to the Future Part II” got a lot of things right (while we don’t have “Jaws 19,” we have plenty of big-screen TVs).

I was 7 years old when Marty McFly and Doc Brown traveled to Oct. 21, 2015 to save McFly’s kids. I dreamed about flying cars and robots and wondered how Nintendo managed to fit so many pictures on a single 8-bit video game cartridge. continue reading →


Gene Therapy and a Birthday Party

By Laura Edwards

Every time I visit Steve Gray and the University of North Carolina Gene Therapy Center, I want to run home and immediately write a blog post and email all of my media contacts and friends in the rare disease community and tell them what’s happening in a lab two hours from my hometown. I want to tell them Steve and his team are going to change the world.

But when I get home, I can’t find the right words, and instead I just scroll through my pictures and reread my notes and wonder how I can possibly feel so inspired knowing we’re too late to save my little sister. continue reading →


Some Place I Can’t Describe

By Laura Edwards

After months of training, planning and anticipation, it arrived: Charlotte’s Thunder Road Marathon, and my planned attempt to run 13.1 miles blindfolded to honor my little sister, Taylor, and support the fight against Batten disease.

On Friday, my colleagues at a creative marketing communications agency threw a purple-drenched pep rally, complete with the theme song from “Rocky,” a gift to Taylor’s Tale and an appearance by my husband, John (who schemed with them to plan the surprise).

At the race expo, I traded hugs with my former colleagues at the healthcare organization sponsoring the race and runners wearing purple for Taylor’s Tale on race day.

Friday night, Dr. Steve Gray, a UNC Gene Therapy Center expert whose lab’s Batten disease research is co-funded by Taylor’s Tale, arrived in Charlotte for the race.

pre-race dinner

Finally, race day arrived. John, Steve, my mom and I picked up Andrew Swistak, my sighted guide, and arrived in uptown Charlotte before sunrise. I did an interview with News 14 Carolina and took a couple of photos for Society Magazine.

News 14 interview

Andrew, Steve and I headed to the start line just as the morning’s first sunlight painted the tops of the skyscrapers. And at 7:15, I took one end of a green bungee cord, pulled down the blindfold bearing my sister’s name and ran into darkness.

start line

We got off to a slow start for the first few miles due to the policeman driving the pace car and charged with keeping the early starters at bay. We even took a wrong turn at one point when the pace car couldn’t keep up with us and had to wait at a busy intersection for the light to change before we could cross. But Andrew and Steve took it all in stride; a few miles in, the course opened up for us, and we picked up the pace.

Auditory cues mean so much more, and are so much more acute, when you can’t see. I loved hearing the reactions of people lining the streets to cheer on runners. First, they cheered for us as they’d cheer for any runner they didn’t know. Then, they’d notice something different about us and go silent before crescendoing into a loud roar. It was incredible to experience, and it gave me an extra kick. Several times along the course, we passed people who knew me or knew our story. I didn’t recognize all of them, but along one quiet neighborhood street, my good friend, Amy, surprised us. I recognized her voice as soon as she called my name. So much of human emotion is expressed in the eyes, and a thick blindfold concealed mine, but I hope she knew how much it meant to me to hear a familiar voice at that very moment.

A few weeks ago, during my longest blindfolded training run with Andrew, I ran untethered for a short period. During the race on Saturday, Andrew cut me loose a few times. Around mile 10, I ran without my guide for what felt like an eternity. I never felt closer to Taylor than during that stretch. I imagined her next to me, healthy, her legs in sync with mine, her voice dancing on the wind, her eyes drinking in the earth.

solo run

Just a short time later, we approached the Taylor’s Tale cheer station near the final stretch. Once more, Andrew took the bungee, and I ran past a screaming, adoring crowd. Their voices melted the cramps in my legs and filled my heart with love. In front of the station, I made a 90-degree turn on Andrew’s spoken direction alone, and we headed to the finish line. As we did, 70 teenagers clad in purple tutus, pompoms, sparkle and glitter took off after us. And as I hurdled over the first timing mat, then the second, and Andrew pulled me to a stop, and I lifted my blindfold and let the light come pouring in, I melted in the arms of my mom, who stood waiting for me at the finish line, crying, and the kids surrounded us, closing us off from the outside world, and suddenly, even though I had a medal around my neck and a timing chip on my shoe, I wasn’t at a race any longer, and I didn’t care that I’d just run a half marathon blindfolded. I was somewhere else, some place I can’t describe or ever return to again except in my dreams.

Mom and Laura at finish line

I ran 13.1 miles in the dark, but I didn’t take a single step alone.

We built Taylor’s Tale from the ashes of a tragedy that tried to burn my family to the ground. And Batten disease is the saddest thing I’ve ever known.

But Taylor’s Tale is not a sad story. Taylor’s Tale is a story of love and hope. And as I ran the final steps of Thunder Road, flanked by living angels and guided only by Andrew’s voice and Taylor’s courage, I knew:

Batten disease may have cast a dark shadow on our world, but I was running to the light.

I believed.

And I felt free.

the finish line

 Note: I ran the Thunder Road Half Marathon blindfolded not only to honor Taylor’s courage and raise awareness of rare diseases, but also to support Dr. Steve Gray’s gene therapy research co-funded by Taylor’s Tale at the University of North Carolina Gene Therapy Center. Donations to this cause are 100 percent tax-deductible. To support our fight to develop treatments for Batten disease and other genetic diseases, click here.


Thunder Road: The Details

By Laura Edwards

blindfold WCNC storyI hatched the crazy idea to run a half marathon blindfolded for my little sister all the way back in the spring, and I ran blind for the first time five months ago. I’ve never spent this much time training for any race, and I can’t believe the big day is almost here. But in just nine days, I’ll put on a blindfold and run the most important 13.1 miles of my life to honor Taylor’s courage and support the fight against rare and genetic diseases. A lot of you will be part of the effort on race day – as a runner, cheerleader or supporter from afar. With some help from the Taylor’s Tale team and our friends at Run For Your Life, I’ve been tying up loose ends behind the scenes between training runs, media coordination and regular life stuff, like work and sleep. Check back throughout the next week for last-minute details, but the following should provide most of the information you need to be part of the effort on Nov. 16:

If you’re running:

  • You have until Sunday, Nov. 10 at 11:59:59 ET to register online here. If you miss the deadline, you’ll have to register at the race expo on Friday, Nov. 15. There is no race day registration. IMPORTANT: on the second page of online registration, under the option that says “Event Groups/Teams,” select “Taylor’s Tale” as your team. Note: if you already registered and did not select Taylor’s Tale, contact me using this form.
  • Thanks to the generosity of two donors, we will have the ability to provide Nike Dri-FIT shirts in Taylor’s Tale purple to the first 40 runners who register to run for Taylor’s Tale. If you have officially registered to run, please contact me using this form with your preferred shirt size (men’s sizes only) and the best way to get in touch with you on Friday, Nov. 15. We will establish a pickup location for the shirts. If you cannot coordinate a pickup or are not one of the first 40 runners, please try to wear something purple and help us “turn Charlotte purple” for Taylor on race day.
  • If you are running the half marathon, you are invited to join my guide (Andrew Swistak), Dr. Steven Gray of the UNC Gene Therapy Center and me. I will receive an early start time (7:15 a.m.) for safety; the official start time is 7:45. Our estimated pace is 9:00/mile, and we expect to be alone on the course for approximately eight miles before the leaders catch us. If you start early, you will not be eligible for awards.
  • If you are running the half marathon, the crowd at the official Taylor’s Tale cheer station will give you one last boost of energy on the final mile, near the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and S. McDowell Street. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for a bunch of people wearing purple and jangling cowbells!
  • Optional: remember why you run! Shirts will be screen printed with “Team Taylor’s Tale” and our website on the back. Save a few breaths to tell fellow runners and spectators about Taylor’s courage and our fight against rare diseases.

If you’re cheering: 

  • Taylor’s Tale will have an official cheer station sponsored by Michelob Ultra. It will be located on mile 12 of the half marathon course near the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and S. McDowell Street. This is a prime location about one-third of a mile from the finish line. View a course map here.
  • Supporters will receive free Michelob Ultra and cowbells.
  • Arrive by 8:30 to get settled and ensure that you don’t miss Andrew, Steve and me as we run by en route to the finish line!
  • IMPORTANT: Runners will vote on the best cheer station, and the winning station will receive $1,000 to donate to charity! You can help us win $1,000 for Taylor’s Tale and the fight against Batten disease. To learn more about the contest, click here.

If you can’t make it to Thunder Road: 

  • Running a race blindfolded to commemorate the five-year anniversary of Taylor’s first 5K is the best way I know to honor her determination in the face of the world’s most tragic disease. But being part of finding the treatment that saves people like Taylor would be the ultimate way to honor my sister and others like her. Even if you can’t make it to Thunder Road, you can be part of the fight to save lives.
  • I’m running Charlotte’s Thunder Road Half Marathon to support gene therapy research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). We announced funding for this important work on Rare Disease Day this year (Feb. 28) along with a coalition of other non-profit organizations, all founded by families fighting Batten disease. This work holds incredible promise for not only Batten disease, but many other devastating illnesses including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). If funding continues, we could have a clinical trial for kids like Taylor in just a few short years.
  • To make a gift and help keep the dream alive at UNC, click here. You can make a gift online or by mail. Taylor’s Tale is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, and gifts are 100 percent tax-deductible.

That’s it for now, but stay tuned for last-minute details. I hope you can join us on the road!


Blind Training with a Pinch Runner

By Laura Edwards

Running isn’t much different from riding a bike without training wheels. Once you know how to put one foot in front of the other, you’ve basically got it. My mom says I look funny when I run. She may be right – the uneven wear on the soles of all of my running shoes betrays my weird gait – but it works. I still have blue ribbons I won for the 50-yard dash in elementary school, and for 20 years, no one could outrun me on a soccer field.

But running blind is a whole different story. In less than three months, I’ll run Charlotte’s Thunder Road Half Marathon blindfolded to honor my sister and support the fight against Batten disease. I started training with my sighted guide, Andrew Swistak, on June 5. Since then, I’ve fallen once, sprained both ankles and torn up a knee. That’s why, if I expect to cross the finish line in one piece on race day, I need as much practice as I can get.

Andrew and I can’t always get together, though. I’ve learned a lot of lessons doing this blindfolded running thing, one of which is that we’re both very busy people! So this morning, I informed my husband, John, that he had to pinch run for my sighted guide.

“That’s right, honey,” I said, handing him one end of the three-foot bungee cord that serves as my lifeline during my blind runs. “Be my eyes, and you won’t get any new medical bills.”

We hit a few rough patches where we couldn’t get our spacing right, and I clipped his feet. Running with my husband in broad daylight helped me understand just how in sync Andrew and I became after only a few runs in the dark. But we got the hang of it, and we even picked up speed at the end. Best of all, I didn’t fall or re-injure my ankles!

Near the end of our run, John pulled to a stop and told me to open my eyes (I didn’t have a blindfold today). Right when I did, a deer crossed the road in front of us. And then, just like that, it disappeared into the trees, and I closed my eyes and started running again.

Later, I thought about how Taylor would have missed that deer. I blind myself by choice for these runs and will blind myself for Thunder Road, but I can recover my vision at any time. Taylor doesn’t have that luxury; a monster called Batten disease stole her vision and a lot of other precious things from her.

And that’s why I run.

I will run the Thunder Road Half Marathon blindfolded to support gene therapy co-funded by Taylor’s Tale at the University of North Carolina Gene Therapy Center. Donations to this cause are 100 percent tax-deductible. To support my run and our fight to develop treatments for Batten disease and other genetic diseases, click here.

Join the Taylor’s Tale team at Thunder Road! Click here to register for the marathon, half marathon or 5K. On the second page of registration, under “Event Groups/Teams,” select “Taylor’s Tale” from the list under “Choose an Existing Group.” Run for us to help raise awareness on race day. Stay tuned for more details, including special shirts for team members and an informal post-race event!


My Birthday Wish for Taylor

By Laura Edwards

birthday cakeMy sister, Taylor, will turn 15 on Monday. Taylor’s less than half my age, but she’s my hero. She’s done some pretty incredible things in her short life – like run two 5K races despite the fact that she’s blind and suffers from Batten disease, which is pretty much the worst disease on the face of the earth. That’s why, in three months, I’ll run Charlotte’s Thunder Road Half Marathon blindfolded to honor her and help find a treatment for Batten disease.

I’ve had the same birthday wish for Taylor every year since her diagnosis in 2006. I want a world where people like my sister can dream of growing old. I believe in that world. Tomorrow, in honor of my sister’s birthday, you can do one of three things to help Taylor’s Tale achieve that dream:

  • Sign up to run for Taylor at Thunder Road on Saturday, Nov. 16, and help us turn the course purple for Taylor’s Tale. You can run the marathon, half marathon or 5K. Note: blindfold not required. 🙂 Be sure to join our team during the registration process. On the second page of registration, under “Event Groups/Teams, select “Taylor’s Tale” from the list under “Choose an Existing Group.” Run for us to honor Taylor and help raise awareness of Batten disease on race day. In return, you’ll receive a moisture-wicking team shirt and an invitation to an optional post-race get-together. Stay tuned for more details! Click here to register now.
  • Make a gift to Taylor’s Tale in honor of Taylor’s birthday and help support our fight against Batten disease and other rare and genetic diseases. All donations are 100 percent tax-deductible. We fund research that has the potential to lead to treatments for human beings. We’ve supported work at top institutions in the United States and Europe. Today, we’re co-funding work at the University of North Carolina that could lead to life-saving gene therapy for Batten disease and many other genetic diseases. To make a donation, click here.
  • Run 3.1 miles – or a 5K – for Taylor on her birthday, Aug. 19. Visit our Facebook page and share a post about your run. Be creative – share a photo or a description of your run, or just tell us that you did it! You can also connect with us on Twitter. Share your run with us on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for helping us write the happy ending to Taylor’s Tale!