Ontario won't yet fund studies on new MS treatment
Saskatchewan is ready to fund clinical trials of a new procedure that could offer hope to people with multiple sclerosis, but Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty says his province won't yet follow suit.
McGuinty admits he's heard reports that the "liberation treatment" to open blocked neck and chest veins seems to offer real hope to people with MS. But he says he'd like to see more than anecdotal evidence supporting the procedure, noting "it's early days yet."
Regarding funding for MS patients who would like to try the treatment, Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews says the province has made it clear it intends to rely on scientific evidence to determine what procedures it will fund, and "there's still no evidence to support this."
However, both McGuinty and Matthews said governments owe it to people with MS to look closely at the liberation treatment and its effect on those with the disease.
On Tuesday, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said he wanted his province to be the first to help pay for clinical trials into the controversial treatment. He said he wanted his province to be a leader in "exploring every possible source of hope for those who are battling MS."
"We're simply saying, if the research community comes forward with plans for clinical trials so that we can actually test the liberation treatment here in the province, even though we would be the first in Canada, we would be happy to fund that," Wall told CTV News.
And he said he hoped other provinces would join his province in funding studies.
"I may well be raising this issue when the premiers meet later this summer, and inviting other provinces to join with the province of Saskatchewan," Wall said.
In an interview with CTV News Channel later on Wednesday afternoon, Wall acknowledged that Saskatchewan has the highest rate of MS in Canada.
"So I think it's our responsibility with the public health-care system to lead in potential research" on the disease, he said. "There's a lot of hope here, and we want to explore that hope to the best extent possible."
The liberation treatment is based on an unproven theory that many, if not most, MS patients have a vein condition dubbed CCSVI (chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency), which is marked by blocked veins in the neck or chest. The theory, proposed by Italian doctor Paolo Zamboni, is that CCSVI causes blood to reflux back into the brain, leading to the symptoms that mark MS.
The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada has been cautious about the new theory, saying a lot more research is needed.
"It's a new concept and it's got to be looked into," Paula Moon-Wozney of the MS Society's Saskatchewan division told CTV on Tuesday. She added: "The more research that goes on into this very exciting area of research, the better."
The Canadian Institute for Health Research also put out the call earlier this year to scientists urging them to submit grant proposals to study the effectiveness of the liberation treatment, which is a form of angioplasty to open blocked neck veins.
With no doctors widely offering the procedure in Canada, a number of Canadian MS patients have been travelling to places like Bulgaria, Poland and Costa Rica to find clinics willing to give them the treatment – often at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars.
While many of these patients are filling the Internet with blog entries and YouTube video testimonies of how the treatment has arrested or sometimes even reversed their symptoms, other patients have had less success. And many physicians worry that the procedure may not be without risk.
Earlier this year, editors of the Canadian Medical Association Journal joined the debate, encouraging MS patients to demand more research into the theory, noting that "To date, the published evidence is limited to a case series of 65 patients."
They added that any new research funding into CCSVI should be allocated based on evidence, not political or patient pressure.
"Good health policy decisions should not be based on hope and desperation," they wrote. "Equally, scientists and skeptics should avoid discounting novel ideas prematurely. It is precisely the unexpected scientific discovery that often leads to major advances in care."
With a report from CTV Regina's Dale Hunter