Studies cast doubt on experimental MS treatment
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Wednesday, August 4, 2010 7:37PM EDT
Two new studies have cast doubt on an experimental treatment for multiple sclerosis known as the "liberation technique," but patients who have undergone the procedure swear it's effective at alleviating their symptoms.
One of those patients, Calgary resident Ginger MacQueen, insists the treatment has increased her quality of life.
"I can ride my bike, I can walk my dog, I have hope again," she told CTV News. "I don't feel like there's an axe over my head anymore."
The treatment is essentially a short angioplasty session to clear blocked veins in the neck and restore blood-flow from the brain. It was developed by Italy's Dr. Paolo Zamboni, whose wife has MS.
While MS is considered an autoimmune disease, Zamboni treats it as a cardiovascular condition. However, he is careful to note his technique is not a cure for MS, and says there is nearly a 50 per cent chance the opened veins will close back up again.
This week, separate studies in Germany and Sweden examined Zamboni's theory by looking at the veins of a small group of subjects.
Using magnetic resonance imaging, the Swedish study examined the vascular condition of 21 people suffering from MS and 20 people without the disease. Results found no difference in whether they had blocked veins or not.
"In this small study we find no support for venous vascular surgical treatment and we are not able to confirm the Italian theory," said the Swedish study's lead researcher, Peter Sundstrom of Umea University.
A second study in Germany used a slightly larger group of subjects: 56 MS patients and 20 healthy subjects. Researchers examined their veins using ultrasound tests, and the results were similar to the Swedish study. Only one MS patient had blocked veins leading to the brain.
Both studies were published this week in the Annals of Neurology.
Despite the results, Canadian patients like Crystal Bruce are still seeking Zamboni's treatment, even if it means paying tens of thousands of dollars.
"We have to get this done right away," said Bruce, who hopes to undergo the operation at a clinic in New York.
Last month, Saskatchewan became the first province to fund clinical trials of the liberation technique. The prairie province has the highest rates of MS in Canada.
The decision has put pressure on other provinces to follow suit. But Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said his government would wait for more scientific research before allocating any money.
With a report by CTV's Todd Battis in Halifax