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John Cade

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Subject: Bipolar Disorder, History of bipolar disorder, Mood disorders, Lithium carbonate, Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists
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John Cade

John Cade AO
Born (1912-01-18)18 January 1912
Murtoa, Victoria, Australia
Died 16 November 1980(1980-11-16) (aged 68)
Fitzroy, Victoria, Australia
Occupation psychiatrist; army medical officer; medical scientist; mental health practitioner; prisoner of war (Australian); public servant
Spouse(s) Estana Evelyn Jean Charles
Children John (1938), David (1940), Mary (1947), Peter (1948), Richard (1950)
Parents Dr David & Ellen Cade

Dr John Frederick Joseph Cade AO (18 January 1912 – 16 November 1980) was an Australian psychiatrist credited with discovering (in 1948) the effects of lithium carbonate as a mood stabilizer in the treatment of bipolar disorder (then known as manic depression). In an age where the standard treatments for psychosis were electroconvulsive therapy and lobotomy, lithium had the distinction of being the first effective medication available to treat a mental illness.

Early life

John Cade was born in Murtoa,[nb 1] in the Wimmera region of Victoria, Australia. John's father David was Murtoa's general practitioner. Ellen, John's mother, and younger brothers David and Frank completed the family. When John was a small boy, his father left for World War I and served in Gallipoli and France. On return from the war, his father suffered from 'war-weariness' and had difficulty in continuing in general practice. Therefore, his father sold the practice and accepted a position with the Mental Hygiene Department. Over the next 25 years, Dr Cade Sr became medical superintendent at several Victorian mental hospitals, namely Sunbury, Beechworth and Mont Park. John and his brothers spent many of their younger years living within the grounds of these institutions, which had a great bearing on John's later deep understanding of the needs of the mentally ill.[1] John was educated at Scotch College, Melbourne, matriculating in 1928. He then studied medicine at the University of Melbourne, graduating at the age of 21 years with honours in all subjects. He became a House Officer at St Vincent's Hospital and then Royal Children's Hospital before becoming severely ill with bilateral pneumococcal pneumonia. While he was convalescing, John fell in love with one of his nurses, Jean. They married in 1937.[1]

World War II

Like his father before him, Cade left his young family to fight for Australia in the Armed Forces in World War II. Cade was appointed captain, Australian Army Medical Corps, A.I.F., on 1 July 1940 and posted to the 2nd/9th Field Ambulance.[2] Although trained as a psychiatrist, Dr. Cade served as a surgeon and departed for Singapore in 1941 on RMS Queen Mary. He was promoted to major in September 1941. After the Fall of Singapore to Japan, he became a prisoner of war at Changi Prison from February 1942 to September 1945.[1] During his imprisonment, he reportedly would observe some fellow inmates having strange, vacillating behaviour. He thought perhaps a toxin was affecting their brains and when it was eliminated through their urine, they lost their symptoms.

Discovery of the effect of lithium on mania

After the war, Cade recuperated very briefly in Heidelberg Hospital, then took up a position at Bundoora Repatriation Mental Hospital in Melbourne. It was at an unused kitchen in Bundoora where he conducted crude experiments which led to the discovery of lithium as a treatment of bipolar disorder. These experiments mostly consisted of injecting urine from mentally ill patients into the abdomen of guinea pigs. These would appear to die faster than when healthy persons' urine was used, leading him to think that perhaps more uric acid was present in the samples provided by his mentally ill patients. Then, in an effort to increase the water solubility of uric acid, lithium urate was added to the solution. Cade found that in the guinea pigs injected with the lithium urate solution, toxicity was greatly reduced.[3] However, his use of careful controls in his experiments revealed that the lithium ion had a calming effect by itself. After ingesting lithium himself to ensure its safety in humans,[1] Cade began a small-scale trial of lithium citrate and/or lithium carbonate on some of his patients diagnosed with mania, dementia præcox or melancholia, with outstanding results. The calming effect was so robust that Cade speculated that mania was caused by a deficiency in lithium.[3]

While Cade's results appeared highly promising, side-effects of lithium in some cases lead to non-compliance. Toxicity of lithium led to several deaths of patients undergoing lithium treatment. The problem of toxicity was greatly reduced when suitable tests were developed to measure the lithium level in the blood. Moreover, as a naturally-occurring chemical, lithium salt could not be patented, meaning that its manufacturing and sales were not considered commercially viable. These factors prevented its widespread adoption in psychiatry for some years, particularly in the United States, where its use was banned until 1970.

John Cade, Royal Park and RANZCP

John Cade acute unit at Royal Park Hospital circa 2003

In 1952 Cade was appointed Superintendent and Dean of the clinical school at Royal Park Hospital. Two years later, at the request of the Mental Hygiene Authority which was planning to remodel Royal Park, he visited Britain for six months to inspect psychiatric institutions. On his return, he introduced modern facilities and replaced the rather authoritarian approach to patient care with a lot more personal and informal style that included group therapy. Concerned at the number of alcohol-related cases, he supported voluntary admission to aid early detection and later proposed the use of large doses of thiamine in the treatment of alcoholism.[2] Cade served as the Superintendent at Royal Park until his retirement in 1977.[1]

He served as the federal president of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists in 1969–70, and also as the president for its Victoria branch from 1963 until his death in 1980. In the end, Dr. Cade's discovery did receive widespread acknowledgements and praise. For his contribution to psychiatry, he was awarded a Kittay International Award in 1974 (with Mogens Schou from Denmark), and he was invited to be a Distinguished Fellow of the American College of Psychiatrists. In 1976, Cade was one of the first to be made an Officer of the Order of Australia.[4] Dr. Cade remained humble about his chance discovery, describing himself as merely a gold prospector who happened to find a nugget. Finally, in July 2004, the Medical Journal of Australia reported that Cade's 1949 article, "Lithium salts in the treatment of psychotic excitement", was the number one most cited MJA article.[5]

Troubled Minds

In 2004, Film Australia and SBS screened the documentary 'Troubled Minds – The Lithium Revolution',[6] a 60-minute documentary portraying John Cade's discovery of the use of Lithium in mental illness. The documentary received international recognition winning the main prize at the International Vega Awards for Excellence in Scientific Broadcasting. Troubled Minds was also recognised locally with writer/director Dennis K. Smith winning the AWGIE Award for Best Documentary.[7]


  1. ^ Some authors state Cade was born in Horsham, one of the larger towns in the Wimmera area. However other authors, notably Cade's son Jack Cade, state John Cade was born in Murtoa, a town 32 kilometres (20 mi) NE of Horsham.


  1. ^ a b c d e Cade, Jack F. (1999). "John Frederick Joseph Cade: family memories on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his discovery of the use of lithium in mania". The Australian and New Zealand journal of psychiatry 33 (5): 615–618.  
  2. ^ a b Ironside, Wallace (1993). "Cade, John Frederick Joseph (1912–1980)".  
  3. ^ a b Cade, John FJ (3 September 1949). "Lithium salts in the treatment of psychotic excitement". Medical Journal of Australia 2 (36): 349–352. 
  4. ^ "It's an Honour – Officer of the Order of Australia". Retrieved 22 November 2008. 
  5. ^ "100 Years of Australian Innovation – lithium for manic depression". Retrieved 11 October 2008. 
  6. ^ Troubled Minds: The Lithium Revolution at the Internet Movie Database
  7. ^ "2005 AWGIE Award Winners" (pdf). Australian Writers' Guild. Retrieved 22 September 2008. 
  • Mitchell PB, Hadzi-Pavlovic D. John Cade and the discovery of lithium treatment for manic depressive illness. Medical Journal of Australia, 1999, 171: 262–264. and Ref. No. 00-0612 Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 2000, 78 (4)
  • Mitchell PB. On the 50th anniversary

See also

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