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Clinical trials a bold but needed move

Italian researcher Dr.

Italian researcher Dr. Paolo Zamboni raised the hopes of people affected by multiple sclerosis the world over when he proposed the theory that blocked veins are responsible for the symptoms of the disease, and that simply opening the veins improved the condition of many sufferers.

But since then, the research has set off a firestorm of controversy, over whether his proposed method of treatment actually works, and if it can potentially work, why the treatment is still not offered in Canada. Some people who want respite from their symptoms and have found hope in the treatment’s promises are ready to take matters into their own hands and are travelling outside Canada to have the procedure done.

More research is definitely needed before Canada wholeheartedly embraces and offers this treatment, because it does involve risks. The so-called liberation treatment involves opening veins, since the theory is that blocked veins lead to the buildup of iron in the brain that cause the symptoms of MS. But putting a balloon or stent into fragile, thin veins is much more dangerous than doing so in an artery, a common treatment for those who have had heart attacks or strokes.

In August, a panel set up by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research expressed unanimous agreement that it was too early to support pan-Canadian clinical trials on the liberation procedure. Canada’s Health Minister accepted this advice, saying it was “prudent.” The CIHR president explains the decision on the agency’s website, citing “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.”

It’s true there has yet to be conclusive evidence that blocked veins are responsible for MS, or that the liberation treatment is effective. But as they say, there’s no smoke without a fire. In this case, the anecdotal evidence of some individuals showing a tremendous improvement in their health after having the liberation treatment raises hopes that it can improve the lives of at least some of those with MS.

Provinces like Saskatchewan, which is funding clinical trials, and Newfoundland and Labrador, which are funding observational trials, are boldly leading the way. So too is the MS Society of Canada, which is committing $1 million for a clinical trial.

Making strides in curing this disease seems so within reach at this current moment in time, that it’s up to Canada, a country with one of the highest incidences of MS in the world, to lead the way in funding research and clinical trials, instead of hanging back in the shadows.


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