MS vein theory has roots in rejected research
Published Friday, April 9, 2010 9:16PM EDT
Interest in a controversial new theory that blocked veins in the neck and chest could be triggering multiple sclerosis has received huge interest since CTV's W5 first broke the story last November.
Italy's Dr. Paolo Zamboni brought the concept to the forefront of the medical world, yet it has roots in decades of research. In fact, researchers have been investigating the link between MS and blood flow in the neck for close to a century.
Austria's Dr. Franz Schelling was among those who studied the link. For 30 years, the now-retired doctor has been on a frustrating mission to get someone to study his findings. He theorized that poor blood flow from their brains of MS patients might be caused by damaged veins, which then triggers or contributes to the symptoms that mark MS.
Dr. Schelling worked as a family doctor trained in radiology and neurology and spent much of his career treating patients with MS. He became convinced it was not just a disease of the immune system.
He collected research that pointed to damage in the brains in those with MS. He also analyzed X-rays of MS patients and found odd anomalies in the neck and skulls of patients compared to healthy people.
But Schelling's requests for more study were repeatedly rejected by MS specialists who insisted what has long been promoted: the disease is caused by immune problems, not the veins.
"It really cracked me down, because I had patients that… patients died of MS," he told CTV News from his home in Dornbirn, Austria.
Schelling says he went to Vienna, New York, London and points in between, asking doctors and researchers to investigate the vein-MS link. But no one was interested.
Now, the long-proposed theory is being explored at high speed. Scientists from Europe, Canada and elsewhere are in Italy to learn about Dr. Zamboni's breakthrough research, as well as learn from his team how to test for the vein problems that Zamboni has dubbed CCSVI, or chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency.
Those scientists include radiologist Lindsay Machan from the University of British Columbia.
"We don't want this to languish for a long period. We want to get to the bottom of this," Machan says.
Zamboni tells CTV News that in the last six months, there has been "an explosion of interest and we are going really fast." At least half a dozen studies on CCSVI are planned or underway around the world.
Doctors say many of these studies are coming following a push from MS patients, who don't want doctors to wait any longer testing the CCSVI theory. They also want doctors to begin providing Zamboni's Liberation Treatment, a venoplasty procedure in which a balloon is inserted into the neck veins to open them.
But MS specialists say it's important to do the studies to test the CCSVI theory methodically before proceeding with possible treatments.
"It may be a few years, but very quickly we'll get to research that helps us make sure that treatments are offered with the appropriate safeguards," says Yves Savoie, the president and chief executive of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada.
But scientists in Italy hope to have further data from studies to conform or refute the theories available in less than a year, as patients around the world wait eagerly for an answer.
From a report by CTV medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip
This Saturday on W5, CTV medical specialist Avis Favaro will provide part two of her feature report on CCSVI, investigating the debate that has developed between MS patients and their doctors. The episode, entitled "The Liberation War," will air on April 10, at 7 p.m. ET. Check local listings for times in your area.