Ursodiol has interesting mechanisms of action, appears reasonably safe and well-tolerated, has anecdotal reports of benefit in 6/21 of patients who report taking it, and a form of it (Yoo’s solution) was associated with slightly slower ALS progression in one out of three outcome measures within a poorly designed study that did not account for large numbers of drop-outs. However, analyses of ursodiol data from the well-conducted randomized, double-blind ceftriaxone trial show that ursodiol 300 mg twice a day is no better than placebo at prolonging survival or slowing ALS progression. Based upon this review, ALSUntangled does not recommend off-label use of ursodiol as a treatment for ALS, at least at doses of 300 mg twice a day. Determining whether higher doses or different formulations are effective will require further well-designed studies.
Mechanistic plausibility - C
At this time, there is evidence that PALS, like those with other chronic illnesses, are at increased risk for vitamin D deficiency. It is, therefore, reasonable to screen PALS for this. If vitamin D deficiency is found, it seems reasonable to supplement vitamin D according to established guidelines (31) in order to avoid medical complications of vitamin D deficiency. It is not yet clear, however, that vitamin D supplementation can slow disease progression, improve muscle strength, or reduce falls in PALS. We support further studies to answer these questions.
Propofol has mechanisms of action that may be relevant in treating ALS, although the short action of the drug makes it unlikely that a single infusion could influence ALS pathophysiology in a meaningful way. On ALS.net, six patients with ALS reported wide-ranging subjective benefits coincident with propofol use. Unfortunately, none of these benefits has been verified on validated ALS outcome measures. Only one of 235 patients with confirmed ALS who received propofol for PEG at an ALS center, or in the PRO-ACT database, or in a stem cell trial, improved objectively. The improvements in this patient were much slower to begin, and longer in duration, compared to those reported by the cohort on ALS.net, suggesting that they were more likely due to other longer-acting medications the patient received (such as immunosuppression), the stem cell treatment, or an unusual reversible form of ALS (27–30). While we cannot conclusively rule out a very brief benefit from propofol in rare patients with ALS, the risks and costs involved do not appear to justify its use. We strongly discourage the off label use of propofol in ALS patients at this time. Patients with ALS who are going to have propofol on label for a procedure or surgery may wish to have their ALS neurologist measure an ALSFRS-R and FVC before and in the first few days after propofol exposure and to send these results to ALSUntangled for a possible follow-up review.
There is a rationale by which the calcium binding protein apoaequorin could work to slow ALS progression. Unfortunately, at this time there is insufficient information available to determine whether it does. The one small case series referred to above utilized a cocktail of therapies and is further weakened by the loss of its standardized outcome measurements. Information from the manufacturer suggests that apoaequorin is reasonably safe and well tolerated but there is no independent, systematic confirmation of this; two PatientsLikeMe members reported serious adverse events while taking it and it is fairly expensive.
At this time ALSUntangled does not recommend that patients with ALS take apoaequorin. Reasonable next steps would include a controlled study of apoaequorin in an ALS animal model and/or a small series of well-characterized patients with ALS using validated outcome measures and including serum and CSF pharmacokinetics.
Cannabis has biological properties including immunomodulation and effects on excitototoxicity that suggest it could be useful in ALS. Evidence from small, non-randomized, unblinded animal studies suggest that it could potentially slow ALS progression, and anecdotal reports suggest that it could ameliorate troubling ALS symptoms. Given all this, ALSUntangled supports further careful study of cannabis and cannabinoids, the active ingredients contained therein. Natural cannabis, as a single agent, provides advantages similar to a multiple drug trial given its numerous mechanisms of action. A possible next step would be a small case series of well-characterized PALS using cannabis at controlled dosages that could potentially be monitored by blood levels of cannabinoids, compared to matched controls, performed in a geographic area where it would be legal.
Coconut oil has plausible mechanisms for use in ALS involving raising ketone bodies and lipid levels. Ketogenic and high fat diets may have helped slow motor neuron loss in small ALS animal studies with many flaws. Two online PALS have reported subjective improvements in muscle strength while taking coconut oil, while four others have not. One of these two is anonymous and described on a website promoting a book about coconut oil, and the other apparently has a very atypical slowly progressive form of ALS and takes at least one other supplement. Coconut oil at doses of 1–4 tablespoons per day appears generally well tolerated but it is not entirely clear how well these doses raise blood ketone levels. Although several large respected groups have warned against coconut oil intake in large amounts, the rationale behind these warnings has recently been called into question. Given all this, ALSUn- tangled supports further careful study of coconut oil or other methods of raising ketone bodies in patients with ALS. A reasonable next step would be a small case series of well-characterized PALS using coconut oil or other methods to raise blood ketone levels into the range found to be effective in epilepsy and possibly Alzheimer ‘ s, compared to a well-matched historical control group on objectively verifiable outcome measures.
Disclosures: ALSUntangled is sponsored by the Packard Center and the Motor Neurone Disease Association. 330 The ALSUntangled Group
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Given the lack of demonstrated effectiveness, and the above-documented concerns about product safety and supplier identity and reliability, ALSUntangled does not support the use of mototab
for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or any other motor neuron disease. If Oslo Health Solutions ever con-tacts us with additional useful information on this product we will gladly publish an addendum to this investigation.
In our opinion, BV has biological effects that could potentially be useful in ALS. Two ALS-animal studies in which BV was injected into an unusual anatomic location showed positive effects on motor preservation and inflammatory markers; one showed improved survival. However, there are some significant problems with these animal studies. They do not meet methodological standards for preclinical animal research (14, 15) for the following reasons: treatment allocation was not randomized, power arguments are not presented, sample sizes are too small, potential confounders such as gender and copy number variation are not adequately addressed, criteria for determining symptomatic disease onset are not defined, blinding is not described, outcome measures in control animals are not compared to those in other studies to demonstrate external validity, and replication of results is via the same, rather than an independent group of authors. Furthermore, it is not currently possible to replicate pre-symptomatic drug delivery in humans with sporadic ALS. Many other compounds given pre-symptomatically to ALS-animals have failed to yield any positive benefit in human patients (16); indeed one immune-modulator that worked in ALS-animals actually appeared to accelerate disease progression in patients with sporadic ALS (17). It may not be possible to replicate the dosage of BV that was used in future human studies; by one estimate, for a 70g human this would require 70,000 bee stings twice a week (18). Finally and most importantly, we found very little data of any kind on BV exposure in humans with ALS; the two anecdotal reports describe unverified, non-overlapping benefits. Given all this, and the costs and risks of BV (which include death), ALSUntangled does not support the use of BV by patients with ALS outside of a study at this time. Replication of the animal studies via an independent group following published methodological guidelines and using a dosing regimen that could eventually be translated to human studies would be a reasonable next step.