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Lithium and MND – the need for a definitive answer

NOVEMBER 03, 2008

Professor Nigel Leigh, of the Institute of Psychiatry is to lead a new clinical trial. He is an internationally renowned MND researcher and Director of the King’s MND Care Centre London. Every year he and his team see 240 new patients with motor neurone disorders and 75% of these patients are then diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND)

The MND Association is announcing its intention to fund a clinical trial to investigate the effects of lithium carbonate (lithium) as a possible treatment for this devastating, fatal disease. It is hoped that the MND Association-funded clinical trial of lithium will begin in the first half of 2009.

Why lithium?
There is scientific evidence to support the use of lithium as a treatment for MND. Laboratory studies have shown that lithium can have a protective effect on motor neurones and the drug has demonstrated positive effects in the mouse model of MND. In February 2008, a group of Italian researchers published the results of a small clinical study of lithium. The results were encouraging as they reported that lithium slowed the progression of MND. These results however, need to be considered with extreme caution as the Italian trial had significant weaknesses.

Prof Leigh says: “Randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials are the gold standard in this situation, as they are the only proven way to remove bias from a trial. Here in the UK, we decided that this approach will best serve our patients by providing clear and unequivocal answers to the questions - does lithium help, do nothing, or do harm? A placebo group is essential to avoid a confusing or simply wrong result. “It is our responsibility and duty to carry out this trial because we have to consider every lead seriously, and where there is real uncertainty, resolve it swiftly. The results of the Italian trial are too dramatic to ignore. Also, we don’t work in a vacuum - we work in partnership with our patients and we can’t forget that. We need to know the truth about lithium and we have a robust trial which will deliver a real answer.”

Up to 220 patients from 10 MND Care Centres across England will be recruited for this clinical trial. Since 1990, the MND Association has developed a network of care centres throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland. There are currently 17 MND Care Centres MND Care Centres. Each centre brings together a wealth of experience of caring for people with MND.
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