According to the claims by a medical expert, the late Professor Stephen Hawking may have been misdiagnosed and was actually a victim of polio.
Dr Christopher Cooper, a physician at the University of California, thinks that 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.
Dr Cooper pointed to two outbreaks of polio in the UK and the US that occurred in 1916 and 1952 and suggests polio as a potential cause for the scientist's condition.
In a letter to the Financial Times, Dr Cooper said that Hawking’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.
Hawking, who died last Wednesday aged 76, was famous for his dependence on a wheelchair for movement and a computerised voice system for communications.
ALS is a sub-set of the motor neuron disease umbrella that makes up nearly 90 per cent of MND diagnoses, meaning the two terms are often used interchangeably.
In his letter, Dr Cooper outlined a number of anomalies regarding the condition of the great physicist.
He wrote that the affliction Hawking suffered began when he was 21 years old and his illness lasted 55 years. He further states that the age of onset and clinical course do not match understanding of ALS.
He went on to state, “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.
Dr Cooper added that perhaps Hawking was unlucky to contract poliomyelitis or a similar viral infection a few years later in 1963.
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'.
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