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Rare diseases, orphan drugs, and orphan diseases

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 13 July 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:127
  1. Jeff Aronson, clinical pharmacologist (
  1. Oxford

    Rare comes from the Latin rarus (loosely spaced or sparse) and eventually from the putative Indo-European root ERE, denoting separation, as in hermits and eremites and the net-like structures rete, retinaculum, and retina.

    Orphan comes from the Greek orphanos (a child deprived of one parent or both, or an adult deprived of a child). Metaphorically it denoted poverty and unspiced food. Its Indo-European root was ORBH (bereft) giving the Latin orbus and the obsolete English words orbation and orbity (orphanhood or childlessness). One bereft of freedom is a slave, forced into hard work, as in the German Arbeit and the Czech robota. Karel Èapek coined the word robot (female robotka) in his play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots, 1920) to denote an imagined race of mechanical people. And the etymology reflects the link between orphans and the workhouse.

    Modern …

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