Lithium shows no benefit to MND patients

March 19, 2013, King's College London
Lithium shows no benefit to MND patients

(Medical Xpress)—Results from a clinical trial into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), led by King's College London's Institute of Psychiatry show that lithium carbonate is ineffective at treating the disease.

ALS is a type of (MND). It is a neurodegenerative disease in which motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord degenerate, resulting in progressive paralysis ultimately leading to dependence on mechanical or death, usually within 3 years. A drug called riluzole is known to improve survival in patients with ALS, but the effect is moderate and there remains a pressing need for more effective treatments.

The trial, known as the 'LiCALS trial' involved 214 patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS – a type of MND) who were currently taking riluzole. Patients were randomly allocated daily doses of oral (107 patients), or a placebo (107 patients) and followed for 18 months.

The findings, published recently in the The Lancet Neurology, report that while lithium was safe, there was no significant increase in for patients prescribed lithium, compared to the placebo.

Previous research had found that lithium had neuroprotective effects in cells and animal models of neurodegeneration.

Professor Ammar Al-Chalabi, chief investigator of the trial from the Department of Clinical Neuroscience at King's Institute of Psychiatry, says: "A previous small study showed that lithium might slow down ALS and improve survival rates, but the result was not certain. What was needed was a definitive trial to show whether or not this was an effective treatment for patients with ALS.

"Although the results are disappointing, the trial has allowed the development of a trials network of ten centres in the UK, which will be of great benefit for rapidly testing future therapies. We are most grateful to the who took part in the trial and not only helped answer the question of whether lithium could treat ALS, but also helped in establishing a trials network. We will continue our search for novel treatments for this devastating disease."

Funded by the Motor Neurone Disease Association (MNDA), the trial was coordinated by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) DeNDRoN (Dementias and Network).

Dr Brian Dickie, Director of Research Development at the MND Association says: "As many people will know, when lithium was first proposed as having benefit in MND, a couple of small, short-term trials were performed to establish whether the drug had a large and rapid effect on physical changes in disease progression. This trial, by contrast, was developed to ask whether the drug had a more subtle benefit over a longer time course, as is the case with riluzole, using survival times as the primary measure. The only way to answer this question was by performing larger, lengthier and more comprehensive studies. While the result is deeply disappointing, we now have a clear answer."

Explore further: Novel ALS drug slows symptom progression, reduces mortality in phase II trial

More information: Al-Chalabi, A. et al. 'Lithium in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (LiCALS): a phase 3 multicentre, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial' The Lancet Neurology. doi:10.1016/S1474-4422(13)70037-1

Related Stories

Novel ALS drug slows symptom progression, reduces mortality in phase II trial

November 20, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Treatment with dexpramipexole -- a novel drug believed to prevent dysfunction of mitochondria, the subcellular structures that provide most of a cell's energy – appears to slow symptom progression ...

Finger length clue to motor neuron disease

May 11, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- People with the commonest form of motor neuron disease (MND) called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) are more likely to have relatively long ring fingers, reveals research from the Institute of Psychiatry ...

Stem cell discovery gives insight into motor neurone disease

February 11, 2013
A discovery using stem cells from a patient with motor neurone disease could help research into treatments for the condition. The study used a patient's skin cells to create motor neurons - nerve cells that control muscle ...

Recommended for you

Neuroscientists suggest a model for how we gain volitional control of what we hold in our minds

January 16, 2018
Working memory is a sort of "mental sketchpad" that allows you to accomplish everyday tasks such as calling in your hungry family's takeout order and finding the bathroom you were just told "will be the third door on the ...

New study reveals why some people are more creative than others

January 16, 2018
Creativity is often defined as the ability to come up with new and useful ideas. Like intelligence, it can be considered a trait that everyone – not just creative "geniuses" like Picasso and Steve Jobs – possesses in ...

Even without nudging blood pressure up, high-salt diet hobbles the brain

January 16, 2018
A high-salt diet may spell trouble for the brain—and for mental performance—even if it doesn't push blood pressure into dangerous territory, new research has found.

Brain imaging predicts language learning in deaf children

January 15, 2018
In a new international collaborative study between The Chinese University of Hong Kong and Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, researchers created a machine learning algorithm that uses brain scans to predict ...

Preterm babies may suffer setbacks in auditory brain development, speech

January 15, 2018
Preterm babies born early in the third trimester of pregnancy are likely to experience delays in the development of the auditory cortex, a brain region essential to hearing and understanding sound, a new study reveals. Such ...

BOLD view of white matter

January 15, 2018
The brain consists of gray matter, which contains the nerve cell bodies (neurons), and white matter, bundles of long nerve fibers (axons) that until recently were considered passive transmitters of signals between different ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Mar 19, 2013
Lithium has been shown to protect the brain against hippocampal atrophy in depression and stroke damage, so it was plausible it might help ALS patients. Too bad.

The best hope for ALS right now is probably Neuralstem and their NSI-566 drug made from stem cells, which has restored walking ability in some people.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.