The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada will be asking Canadian scientists to propose their own research into a procedure that has ignited the hopes of patients in Europe and North America.
The procedure is known as chronic cerebro spinal venous insufficiency, or CCSVI, and involves removing a blockage in the veins that carry blood to and from the brain.
An Italian vascular surgeon, Dr. Paolo Zamboni, a professor of medicine at the University of Ferrara in Italy, has reported success in reducing the symptoms of people who suffer from multiple sclerosis.
The Canadian MS organization has reacted to Zamboni's research with caution. On Monday, however, the society said that after receiving so many inquiries about the procedure, it has decided to offer a grant to researchers in Canada. Details of the program will be announced Tuesday.
In the meantime, the society urged people with MS to be patient and continue with their regular treatment until there is more evidence about the experimental procedure.
Multiple sclerosis is considered a neurodegenerative disease that attacks the brain and spinal cord, causing inflammation and damage that can lead to paralysis and sometimes blindness. Nerve fibres that send electrical signals in the brain are coated in a fatty sheath called myelin. Myelin acts as an insulator, like a plastic coating covering a copper wire.
The symptoms of MS are caused by the breakdown of myelin, which leads to problems in how messages are transmitted to the central nervous system.
Conventional wisdom suggests multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disorder caused by immune cells attacking neurons and the brain. But Zamboni thinks a drainage problem is to blame and that the condition can be treated or prevented by surgically unclogging veins to get blood flowing normally again.
So far, Zamboni has performed the angioplasty-like surgery, known as "la liberation" in Italian, on 120 MS patients, including his wife, whose multiple sclerosis provoked his interest in tackling the disease.
'Tremendous interest' Yves Savoie, president and chief executive officer of the MS Society's Ontario division, said he's aware of the "tremendous interest across Canada and around the world caused by the recent news coverage of the CCSVI study," and shares the public's excitement and hope following the preliminary findings.
"Based on what has been published so far, we can only say that MS may occur in association with impaired venous drainage of the central nervous system," the MS Society said on its website, calling CCSVI a "hypothetical situation."
"This impairment, if truly present, could cause MS but it is possible that it is incidental to the disease. More study is needed."
Dr. Robert Zividinov of the University of Buffalo is leading a study that hopes to enroll more than 1,000 MS patients from the United States and Canada to undergo ultrasound and MRI neck scans to detect blocked or twisted veins.
Canadians with multiple sclerosis who want to know more about the procedure can go through St. Joseph's Healthcare in Hamilton, where researchers are able to analyze blood flow in and out of the brain.
Since CTV's current affairs program W5 and the Globe and Mail publicized Zamboni's research on the weekend, the Brain-Body Institute at St. Joseph's has received a "flood" of interest, Dr. John Bienenstock, director of the institute, said in an email.
The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada will finance some research into an experimental Italian treatment but urges patients not to stop treatment until more is known about the procedure. (M. Spencer Green/Associated Press)