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Earlier this month, the journal Lancet Neurology published a study showing that the generic drug lithium did nothing to slow the course of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a devastating neurological disease. The findings would likely have been a disappointment to patients--they refuted an earlier, much smaller study suggesting that lithium could alter the disease's rapid decline--but many already suspected this outcome. Eighteen months earlier, PatientsLikeMe, a for-profit patient networking site and data aggregator based in Cambridge, MA, had come to a similar conclusion, much more quickly and at much less cost.

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