Thursday, April 28, 2011

ALS Study Falls Short, But Use of Social Media Holds Promise - WSJ.com

A new clinical trial found that lithium didn't slow the progression of Lou Gehrig's disease, but the findings released Sunday also showed that the use of a social network to enroll patients and report and collect data may deliver dividends for future studies.

The study was based on data contributed by 596 patients with the disease, formally called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS. By showing that the drug didn't have any effect on progression of the condition, it contradicted a small study three years ago that suggested such a benefit was possible.

The new study, published online in the journal Nature Biotechnology, represents an early example of how social networking could play a role in clinical trials, an area of medical science with strict procedures that many would consider especially difficult to apply in the online world.

"The approach has tremendous potential,'' said Lee Hartwell, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist now at Arizona State University, and formerly president of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Standard clinical trials play a central role in the research enterprise of both of those institutions.

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