PatientsLikeMe Launches Virtual Trial for ALS Patients
PatientsLikeMe and The Duke ALS Clinic have just completed enrollment in a virtual trial designed to test whether Lunasin, a peptide found in soy and some cereal grains, is helpful or harmful to patients living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The Lunasin Virtual Trial is the first study of the supplement in ALS patients and follows a review analyzing its potential to reverse ALS in ALSUntangled, a website for clinicians, patients and researchers to explore alternative treatments.
Duke ALS Clinic Director and ALSUntangled Founder Richard Bedlack, MD, said he first heard about Lunasin’s potential from Mike McDuff, an ALS patient who took the supplement and experienced dramatic improvements in speech, swallowing and limb strength.
“I reviewed Mike’s records and reports, and both his diagnosis and his improvements appeared real,” Bedlack said. “Of course, Mike might have an ALS mimic we don’t know how to test for, or his body may have found a way to beat ALS independent of treatment. But there is one more possibility: his Lunasin regimen might have actually worked. I was compelled to design a study to treat other ALS patients with the same regimen to test if anyone else improves.”
As part of the trial, 50 participants will make three in-person visits to the Duke ALS clinic to measure the supplement’s impact over the course of the year-long study. They will also complete virtual check-ins as members of PatientsLikeMe every 30 days to update their weight, complete an evaluation of their Lunasin regimen, and complete the ALS Functional Rating Scale (Revised, ALSFRS-R), a widely-used patient-reported outcome developed by PatientsLikeMe that allows patients to see their disease progression visually and in context.
Bedlack said the study’s design is patient-centric and eliminates many of the frustrations patients say are inherent in traditional clinical trials. The design also likely contributed to what Bedlack calls the fastest enrollment of any trial in ALS history: the virtual trial took just over five months to fill.
“There are no placebos, and we made the inclusion criteria very broad so that even ALS patients who can’t qualify for other studies due to their long disease duration or use of a ventilator can qualify,” Bedlack said. “We’re also limiting the burden on the participants by helping them check in online from the comfort of home. And we’ve already published the protocol on our ALS Reversals website. We’re taking a completely open approach so that anyone, anywhere, can see the details of what we’re testing and learn more about whether this is helpful, harmful, or does nothing at all. I think all of these factors made the trial very attractive to ALS patients.”
PatientsLikeMe began as a website for people living with ALS to openly share their experiences with each other and study alternative and off-label treatments. Vice President of Innovation Paul Wicks, PhD, said the company’s research focus gave ALS patients a science-based platform to monitor themselves, get ideas from other patients, and play a more active role in their own healthcare. That focus has also helped the company produce more than 30 published research studies on the condition, including a 2011 observational study in Nature Biotechnology that refuted the results of a 2008 clinical trial on the efficacy of lithium carbonate on ALS. More recently the company has worked with Bedlack to study the frequency of ALS plateaus and reversals. Findings from that study were recently published online and in the March 2016 print edition of the journal Neurology.
“The work we’re doing with the Duke ALS Clinic continues our focus on science that is driven by and for the unanswered needs in the ALS community,” Wicks said. “If we can harness the power of online technologies to more rapidly conduct trials, we’ll be able to conduct many more experiments with patients from around the world.”
Anyone taking Lunasin outside of the Lunasin Virtual Trial is invited to separately track their experiences on PatientsLikeMe at www.patientslikeme.com.
ALS is a degenerative disorder affecting upper motor neurons in the brain and lower motor neurons in the brain stem and spinal cord. Symptoms include progressive weakness, atrophy, fasciculation, dysphagia, and eventual paralysis of respiratory function.