August 14, 2013 8:51 pm

Canadian scientists cast doubt on controversial MS theory

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TORONTO – New Canadian research is casting doubt on a controversial theory that suggests multiple sclerosis is caused by blockages in patients’ veins and, in turn, can be treated by “liberation therapy.”

Researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont. say that their latest study, published online Wednesday, found no evidence of any blockages in MS patients’ veins. They’re questioning the value of “liberation therapy,” which became a hot-button health care issue in Canada and abroad.

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The medical community is still unsure of what causes MS. It’s an unpredictable disease that often disables the body’s central nervous system and could lead to difficulty in walking or speaking and a loss of muscle sensitivity.

It’s been suggested that chronic cerebral venous insufficiency (CCSVI), which is a blocking or narrowing of extracranial veins, may be what causes MS symptoms.

It was Paolo Zamboni, an Italian doctor at the University of Ferrara, that argued that CCSVI increased the risk of having MS by 43 times.

By 2008, he introduced “liberation therapy,” an angioplasty that would open up blocked veins in the neck.

There’s been heated debate about the procedure – while it’s helped plenty of patients, there have been instances of death in the wake of the contentious process.

The therapy is banned in Canada, although federal and some provincial governments have poured funding into studying the treatment.

Canadian health officials still face pressure from liberation therapy supporters who are desperate for a solution to treat their disease.

At McMaster, scientists say they looked at 100 patients with MS and 100 people who had no history of any neurological condition. The study was designed to address Zamboni’s hypothesis, lead author Dr. Ian Rodger, told Global News.

The 100 MS patients were broken down into four categories, depending on the severity of the ailment.

Using ultrasounds and MRIs, the researchers studied the neck veins and brains of their subjects. Each participant had both examinations performed on the same day.

Results showed that there were no “abnormalities” in MS patients and their counterparts. Only one person with MS satisfied the criteria for CCSVI.

“This now adds a lot of ammunition to say that you’ve got to be particularly careful if you’re going to go for any interventions,” Rodger said.

“If (patients) are intent on going for treatment, before they think about interventions they clearly have to make sure that they are properly diagnosed as to having some blockage. We could find no evidence in 100 MS patients, only one satisfied two criteria,” Rodger said.

Other research has poked holes in Zamboni’s argument. Another study, out of the University of Buffalo last year, suggested that the narrowing of veins – called CCSVI –  isn’t what causes MS.

In that case, the American researchers said it may be a result of MS instead. These findings stemmed from looking at nearly 500 subjects – 56.1 per cent of MS patients had CCSVI.

Canada has one of the highest MS rates in the world.

On Tuesday, the principal investigator heading Canada’s first national study on “liberation treatment” said final conclusions won’t be reached until 2016.

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca

© 2013 Shaw Media

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