The late Professor Stephen Hawking may have been misdiagnosed and was actually a victim of polio, a medical expert has claimed.
Dr Christopher Cooper, a physician at the University of California, thinks the famed physicist’s symptoms don’t align with those of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
Hawking was diagnosed with the degenerative condition aged 21 and given two years to live, yet he survived the illness for 55 years.
Dr Cooper claims the probability Hawking had ALS is ‘low’ because his age at onset and prolonged survival ‘do not match our understanding’ of the disease.
Pointing to two outbreaks of polio in the UK and the US that occurred in 1916 and 1952, he suggests polio as a potential cause for the scientist’s condition.
In a letter to the Financial Times, Dr Cooper says the physicist’s neurological and motor system impairment could have been caused when he contracted polio shortly before he was diagnosed with ALS in 1963.
He says degeneration of the physicist’s brain only affected the motor system, leading to weakness of peripheral muscles – symptoms typically seen in polio sufferers.
The late Professor Stephen Hawking may not have suffered from motor neuron disease, he may have been afflicted with Polio, claims medical expert. Symptoms of the theoretical physicists illness align more with polio than MND, claims expert
Hawking, who died last Wednesday aged 76, was famous for his dependence on a wheelchair for movement and a computerised voice system for communications.
His long illness and early diagnosis confounded doctors – the average ALS sufferer is diagnosed after 40 and rarely survives longer than 20 years.
In his letter, Dr Cooper outlined a number of anomalies regarding the condition of the great physicist.
He wrote: ‘The affliction that Hawking suffered began when he was only 21 years old and his illness lasted 55 years.
‘The age of onset and the clinical course do not match our understanding of ALS.
‘The probability that Hawking had what we commonly call ALS is low.’
The University of California Professor Emeritus said he does not doubt the severity of Hawking’s neuromuscular disease, but indicated that it may not have been ALS.
ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) is the common name in the US for what is also referred to as motor neuron disease.
Diagnosed at 21 and living with motor neurone disease for 55 years, the brilliant scholar is a distinct anomaly in his battle with the neuromuscular condition
DID STEPHEN HAWKING SUFFER FROM POLIO?
A medical expert has claimed that the late Professor Stephen Hawking may have been misdiagnosed and was actually a victim of polio.
The physicist was diagnosed with motor neuron disease (MND), also known as ALS, in 1963 aged 21.
He was given just two years to live but survived with the disease for 55 years.
But according to Dr Christopher Cooper, a physician at the University of California, Hawking may have instead suffered from polio.
In a letter to the Financial Times, Dr Cooper says the probability Hawking had MNS is ‘low’ because his age at onset and prolonged survival ‘do not match our understanding’ of the disease.
Typically MND sufferers are diagnosed with the disease above the age of 40, with the highest incidence occurring between the ages of 50 and 70.
Survival rates vary with the individual but it is exceptionally rare for someone diagnosed with MND to live with disease for more than 50 years.
Pointing to two outbreaks of polio in the UK and the US in 1916 and 1952, Dr Cooper suggests polio as a potential cause for Hawking’s condition.
In a letter to the Financial Times, Dr Cooper says the physicist’s neurological and motor system impairment could have been caused when he contracted polio shortly before he was diagnosed with MNS in 1963.
Dr Cooper says the physicist’s ‘neurological problem only affected the motor system leading to weakness of peripheral muscles’, symptoms typically seen in polio sufferers.
It is a specific sub-set of the motor neuron disease umbrella and the two terms are often used interchangeably.
Pointing to two outbreaks of the poliomyelitis virus in the UK and the US that occurred in 1916 and 1952, Dr Cooper suggests polio as a potential cause.
Dr Cooper adds: ‘Perhaps Hawking was unlucky to contract poliomyelitis or a similar viral infection a few years later in 1963.’
After 1952, effective vaccines were developed which helped prevent the spread of the lethal disease.
Despite this, large outbreaks continued throughout the world into the 1980s.
Since 1988, a global vaccination campaign was implemented.
Since then the world has made rapid progress against the disease and until 2016 the number of paralytic cases was reduced by 99.99 per cent.
In 2016, there were only 42 cases worldwide compare to 350,000 per year in the 1980s.
Whilst it would have been unfortunate for Professor Hawking to contract the human-to-human disease, it is not unreasonable to suggest.
Dr Cooper assumes in his theory that the ‘neurological problem only affected the motor system leading to weakness of peripheral muscles’.
Whilst the speculation over his illness continues to circle, the nation continues to mourn the loss of one of the most brilliant and inspiring minds of the past century.
Just prior to his passing, the famed theoretical physicist, at the age of 76, finished his theory on the multiverse.
A grand theory, complete with complex equations, that hypothesise the existence of multiple universes stemming from multiple big bangs.
The existence of multiple big bangs was a troubling implication of his 1983 ‘no-boundary’ theory.
The long-time Cambridge professor will leave a legacy behind of how one man’s mind can tackle the most complicated and advanced issues of our era whilst simultaneously fighting his own personal battle against physical disability.
There is still no treatment for Polio. Those unfortunate enough to contract the illness are likely doomed. Much is the same for motor neurone disease, with an average life-expectancy after disgnosis of two to three years. Only 20 per cent of ALS patients live longer than ten years
Although prevention has improved markedly in the last half a decade or so, there is still no treatment for Polio.
Those unfortunate enough to contract the illness are likely doomed.
Much is the same for motor neurone disease, with an average life-expectancy after disgnosis of two to three years.
WHAT IS MOTOR NEURONE DISEASE (ALS)?
The NHS describes motor neurone disease (MND) as: ‘An uncommon condition that affects the brain and nerves. It causes weakness that gets worse over time.’
The weakness is caused by the deterioration of motor neurons, upper motor neurons that travel from the brain down the spinal cord, and lower motor neurons that spread out to the face, throat and limbs.
It was first discovered in 1865 by a French neurologist, Jean-Martin Charcot, hence why MND is sometimes known as Charcot’s disease.
In the UK, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is referred to as Motor Neurone Disease, while in the US, ALS is referred to as a specific subset of MND, which is defined as a group of neurological disorders.
However, according to Oxford University Hospitals: ‘Nearly 90 per cent of patients with MND have the mixed ALS form of the disease, so that the terms MND and ALS are commonly used to mean the same thing.’
Weakness in the ankle or leg, which may manifest itself with trips or difficulty ascending stairs, and a weakness in the ability to grip things.
Slurred speech is an early symptom and may later worsen to include difficulty swallowing food.
Muscle cramps or twitches are also a symptom, as is weight loss due to leg and arm muscles growing thinner over time.
MND is difficult to diagnose in its early stages because several conditions may cause similar symptoms. There is also no one test used to ascertain its presence.
However, the disease is usually diagnosed through a process of exclusion, whereby diseases that manifest similar symptoms to ALS are excluded.
The NHS says that MND is an ‘uncommon condition’ that predominantly affects older people. However, it caveats that it can affect adults of any age.
The NHS says that, as of yet, ‘it is not yet known why’ the disease happens. The ALS Association says that MND occurs throughout the world ‘with no racial, ethnic or socioeconomic boundaries and can affect anyone’.
It says that war veterans are twice as likely to develop ALS and that men are 20 per cent more likely to get it.
There is no cure for MND and the disease is fatal, however the disease progresses at different speeds in patients.
People with MND are expected to live two to five years after the symptoms first manifest, although 10 per cent of sufferers live at least 10 years.
Occupational therapy, physiotherapy and medicines such as riluzole are used to palliate the effects of the the disease.
Lou Gehrig was a hugely popular baseball player, who played for the New York Yankees between 1923 and 1939. He was famous for his strength and was nicknamed ‘The Iron Horse’
Lou Gehrig’s Disease
As well as being known as ALS and Charcot’s disease, MND is frequently referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Lou Gehrig was a hugely popular baseball player, who played for the New York Yankees between 1923 and 1939.
He was famous for his strength and was nicknamed ‘The Iron Horse’.
His strength, popularity and fame transcended the sport of baseball and the condition adopted the name of the sportsman.
He died two years after his diagnosis.
Only 20 per cent of ALS patients live longer than ten years.
Experts have become more adept at diagnosing the disease, but the cause of the condition remains unknown.
Professor Hawking made his name and his impact in a theoretical field where pre-existing knowledge on the matter is minimal.
However, it seems just as little is known about the cause and treatment of both polio and motor neurone disease.
As Dr Cooper surmises: ‘Hawking was a remarkable man whose existence shone a light on both of these mysteries.’
WHAT IS POLIO?
In the early 20th century, polio was one of the most feared diseases in industrialised countries, paralysing hundreds of thousands of children every year.
Soon after the introduction of effective vaccines in the 1950s and 1960s however, polio was brought under control and practically eliminated as a public health problem in these countries.
Polio, or poliomyelitis, is a deadly infectious disease that is caused by the poliovirus.
It is spread from human-to-human contact.
Once someone has the virus, it invades into their brain or spinal cord and causes paralysis.
Most people (about every 72 out of 100 cases) won’t experience any visible symptoms.
The others might experience:
- Sore throat
- Head ache
- Stomach pain
More severe symptoms include paralysis of the body and meningitis.
There is no cure for polio once someone has been infected and it causes paralysis then death. A negative pressure ventilator, often referred to colloquially as an ‘Iron Lung’ was invented in the 1930s to allow sufferers to breathe
There is no cure for polio once someone has been infected.
A polio vaccine is available and recommended for all people to take to prevent them from contracting the disease.
Prevalence of the disease is now uncommon and it is almost totally eradicated in many parts around the world.
A negative pressure ventilator, often referred to colloquially as an ‘Iron Lung’, is a nearly-obsolete mechanical respirator.
It enables a person to breathe on their own in a normal manner, when muscle control is lost, or the work of breathing exceeds the person’s ability.
They were created in the 1930s to help Polio sufferers and are now very rare.
Some people still require them in order to survive but this has become increasingly uncommon.
However, those that do rely on the mechanical respirator are totally dependent on their mechanical exterior.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention