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Is the lithium-for-ALS genie back in the bottle?: Not quite

Neurology (Impact Factor: 8.3). 08/2010; 75(7):586-7. DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e3181ed9ef7
Source: PubMed
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    ABSTRACT: Patients with serious diseases may experiment with drugs that have not received regulatory approval. Online patient communities structured around quantitative outcome data have the potential to provide an observational environment to monitor such drug usage and its consequences. Here we describe an analysis of data reported on the website PatientsLikeMe by patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) who experimented with lithium carbonate treatment. To reduce potential bias owing to lack of randomization, we developed an algorithm to match 149 treated patients to multiple controls (447 total) based on the progression of their disease course. At 12 months after treatment, we found no effect of lithium on disease progression. Although observational studies using unblinded data are not a substitute for double-blind randomized control trials, this study reached the same conclusion as subsequent randomized trials, suggesting that data reported by patients over the internet may be useful for accelerating clinical discovery and evaluating the effectiveness of drugs already in use.
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    ABSTRACT: To determine the safety and efficacy of lithium for the treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in a randomised, placebo controlled, double blind, sequential trial. Between November 2008 and June 2011, 133 patients were randomised to receive lithium carbonate (target blood level 0.4-0.8 mEq/l) or placebo as add-on treatment with riluzole. The primary endpoint was survival, defined as death, tracheostomal ventilation or non-invasive ventilation for more than 16 h/day. Secondary outcome measures consisted of the revised ALS Functional Rating Scale and forced vital capacity. Analysis was by intention to treat and according to a sequential trial design. 61 patients reached a primary endpoint, 33 of 66 in the lithium group and 28 of 67 patients in the placebo group. Lithium did not significantly affect survival (cumulative survival probability of 0.73 in the lithium group (95% CI 0.63 to 0.86) vs 0.75 in the placebo group (95% CI 0.65 to 0.87) at 12 months and 0.62 in the lithium group (95% CI 0.50 to 0.76) vs 0.67 in the placebo group (95% CI 0.56 to 0.81) at 16 months). Secondary outcome measures did not differ between treatment groups. No major safety concerns were encountered. This trial, designed to detect a modest effect of lithium, did not demonstrate any beneficial effect on either survival or functional decline in patients with ALS. NTR1448. Name of trial registry: Lithium trial in ALS.
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