Crowdsourcing a clinical trial

Ars Technica has an article today about a crowdsourced clinical trial to evaluate the effectiveness of using lithium for treating ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).  Over 3500 patients participated in tracking their disease symptoms online and 150 of them were treated with the drug.  The results showed no significant impact of the drug on ALS symptoms.  The company that ran the study, PatientsLikeMe, was founded by three MIT engineers, and they published an article describing the trial in Nature Biotechnology.

From the press release:

“This is the first time a social network has been used to evaluate a treatment in a patient population in real time,” says ALS pioneer and PatientsLikeMe Co-Founder Jamie Heywood. “While not a replacement for the gold standard double blind clinical trial, our platform can provide supplementary data to support effective decision-making in medicine and discovery. Patients win when reliable data is made available, sooner.”