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John Cade

The story of lithium parallels other stories in medical history where the medicinal value of a substance is discovered accidently. In 1949, John Cade, an Australian psychiatrist, decided to experiment with lithium on guinea pigs. He theorized that uric acid was a cause of manic behavior. Since he needed to keep the uric acid soluble, he used lithium salts as an agent in the solution. The guinea pigs did not become manic as he expected, but instead they responded by becoming extremely calm.

When Cade used the lithium treatment on 10 manic patients, he reported remarkable improvement in the patients' condition. One patient who had been in a manic state for five years was able to leave the hospital after a three-month treatment and resume a normal life. Cade reported his results in the Medical Journal of Australia, but his findings did not have an impact on the medical community at that time.

When Cade carried out his experiments, reports of lithium poisonings were widespread in the United States. It was not until the work of Mogens Schou, who campaigned for recognition of lithium as a treatment for manic-depressive illness, that acceptance of lithium began. In the United States, however, it did not gain full FDA approval until 1974, although trials were conducted during the 1960s.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Linear expansivity to Macrocosm and microcosmLithium - History Of Use, John Cade, Administration, Precautions