The Canadian Institutes of Health Research says it's not yet ready to fund new studies to test the "liberation treatment," a controversial approach to treating multiple sclerosis.

CIHR President Dr. Alain Beaudet told reporters Tuesday that after reviewing the research so far on the treatment, and after consultation with neurologists, radiologists and other experts, "there was unanimous agreement from the scientific experts that it is premature to support pan-Canadian clinical trials on the proposed 'liberation procedure'."

"There is an overwhelming lack of scientific evidence on the safety and efficacy of the procedure, or even that there is any link between blocked veins and MS," he said.

Without sufficient scientific evidence of the procedure's safety, it would not be ethical to study the procedure at this time, he said.

The CIHR did say it would establish "a scientific working group" to monitor and analyze results from seven liberation treatment studies, sponsored by the MS Society of Canada (four of those studies are from Canada and three are from the U.S.), as well as from related studies from around the world.

When the final results from those studies are available, the working group can then recommend further studies, "including, if appropriate, a pan-Canadian interventional clinical trial," the CIHR said.

The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada has been cautious about the new theory, saying a lot more research is needed.

In June, the society and its U.S. counterpart awarded a combined $2.4 million in research grants aimed at investigating Zamboni's theory. Four Canadian universities and three American centres will begin research later this year.

The CIHR decision not to fund further studies will surely disappoint many MS patients who have called for immediate research into the treatment ever since CTV's W-Five aired two reports on the controversial treatment.

MS patient Ginger MacQueen, who had the treatment in Poland and says her MS symptoms improved enormously, says the decision will simply drive more patients to foreign clinics.

"They are going to go abroad. They are going to go to Poland, or to the States or any other country that is doing angioplasty and they are going to get treatment there because our country refuses to act," she says.

The "liberation treatment" is based on an unproven theory proposed by Italy's Dr. Paolo Zamboni, which contends that many MS patients have a vein condition dubbed CCSVI (chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency).

The theory holds that CCSVI leads to blocked veins in the neck or chest which causes blood to reflux back into the brain, leading to the symptoms that mark MS.

Earlier this year, editors at the Canadian Medical Association Journal joined the "liberation treatment" debate, encouraging MS patients to demand more research into the theory. But they added that new research funding should be allocated based on evidence, not political or patient pressure.

With dozens of MS patients going overseas for CCSVI treatment -- at their own expense -- many patients have organized petitions calling on the federal government and their provincial governments to fund studies and treatments.

While a number of provinces have said they would fund clinical trials into the treatment, so far, no studies have been approved.