Sufferers of motor neurone disease have been given new hope by the announcement of an 18 month, £1 million study into lithium to begin next year.
There is some evidence that it can slow the progress of the nerve illness famously suffered by scientist Professor Stephen Hawking. Up to a tenth of patients are already thought to be taking the drug, despite serious side-effects.
Professor Nigel Leigh, director of the MND Care Centre at King’s College London, said: “We’re looking for something like a 20% reduction in the death rate, which is a huge effect.”
Prof Hawking, Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University and one of the world’s leading cosmologists, is an exceptional case.
He was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – the most common form of MND – at the age of 21, and although severely disabled he is still active at the age of 66.
To provide meaningful results, all those taking part must fall into the ‘normal’ bracket of patients with rapidly progressing disease.
Because lithium is so cheap – 2.4p per 200mg tablet – a positive outcome is likely to result in most MND patients being offered it.
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