W5 investigates intriguing new theory about MS
Published Friday, November 20, 2009 5:59PM EST
A group of doctors in Italy is investigating a fascinating new treatment for multiple sclerosis, based on a theory that, if proven true, could radically alter the lives of patients.
An investigation by CTV's W5 reveals that this treatment appears to stop the disease from progressing. Patients seen in the documentary relate how, after the simple procedure, their MS symptoms suddenly stopped and, in some cases, they were able to resume normal lives.
The Italian research is asking fundamental questions about the origins of the debilitating condition, whose causes have long remained a mystery.
It's generally assumed that MS is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks the central nervous system, leading to weakness, extreme fatigue, chronic pain and visual problems.
But what if MS were really a vascular problem? What if it were caused by a structural defect in the veins, one that could be diagnosed and treated before patients become disabled?
That is the radical theory being presented by Dr. Paolo Zamboni, a former vascular surgeon and professor at the University of Ferrara. Zamboni has been conducting research on MS patients and has noticed that almost all of them have malformed or blocked veins in their neck and chest that take blood away from their brains.
He believes that may be contributing to, or even causing, their Multiple Sclerosis.
"This is a breakthrough because it opens a new opportunity for research," Zamboni told CTV's W5 from his research lab in Ferrara, Italy.
Using ultrasound, Zamboni discovered that almost all MS patients have blocked or twisted veins in their necks and upper chest, while healthy people do not.
Zamboni has dubbed the vein condition CCSVI, or Chronic Cerebrospinal Venous Insufficiency and believes that in those with the condition, blood fails to properly drain from the brain and can even flow back upwards into the brain.
There, the blood could be depositing iron, a substance that is toxic to the brain's grey matter. This excess iron could be what sets off a host of immune reactions -- and possibly, the symptoms of MS.
Zamboni has begun publishing research on CCSVI, hoping to compel others doctors to take a look at his theory.
His work has intrigued Dr. Robert Zivadinov at the University of Buffalo, who is also now conducting research to see how prevalent CCSVI is. He is leading a team that recruiting 1,600 adults and 100 children from the U.S. and Canada, both those with MS and those without. They plan to test the volunteers and analyze blood flow in and out of their brains.
"The first step is to prove that this is true and is more prevalent in MS patients, which I believe, medically speaking, it is true," he told CTV News. "Then, is it the cause or the consequence of MS? We don't know."
Even more exciting than a new theory on the cause of MS is new hope for a treatment.
Dr. Zamboni has tested a procedure he calls the "Liberation Treatment" that he says can open those blocked veins using a balloon inserted in the vein, in much the way surgeons repair coronary arteries in angioplasty.
The hope is that the treatment allows blood to drain properly and arrests the progression of MS.
Buffalo resident Kevin Lipp, 49, has already undergone the treatment as part of Zamboni and Zivadinov's research. He was diagnosed with MS a decade ago and suffered increasingly severe attacks that left him unable to work.
Lipp says his whole life changed after the procedure. He felt better almost immediately and hasn't had an MS attack in the 10 months since the procedure.
"I think it's amazing. I think it's totally amazing," he told W5.
While he's hopeful the results will last, he's reticent to say he's cured.
"It's only been 10 months. If nothing happens to me in the next two, three years, you know it's working," he says.
Bianca Weinstock-Guttman, an associate professor of neurology at Buffalo University in Buffalo, finds the new theory - and the Liberation Treatment - very exciting.
"If this is proven correct, it will be a very, very big discovery because we'll completely change the way we think about MS, and how we'll treat it," she says.
For now, MS Societies in Canada and the U.S. have reacted cautiously to the research,, saying there is "insufficient evidence to suggest this phenomenon is the cause of MS" and discouraging patients from getting tested or seeking treatment.
But the researchers testing Zamboni's theory believe they're on to something that could change the future for MS patients around the world.
W5 will present a full investigation of "The Liberation Treatment" -- including the first TV footage of the procedure and treated patients -- on Saturday at 7 p.m. on CTV. (The broadcast will be repeated Sunday afternoon.) Check local listings.
Check the W5 website after the show as well, for information and links to more information.