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St. Joe’s MS theory sparks flood of interest

Posted Nov 28 2009 10:02pm
November 28, 2009
St. Joseph’s Hospital will be testing a radical new theory that multiple sclerosis is a vascular disease that can be treated.

The unproven theory by an Italian doctor whose wife has MS has given hope to those with the mystery neurological disease believed until now to be an autoimmune condition with few treatments.

Local doctors and researchers have been swamped with thousands of calls from as far away as Alaska and California since word got out last week that Hamilton is one of the few places in Canada testing it.

Dr. Mark Haacke, one of the McMaster researchers involved, described it as a “tidal wave.”

“Getting 10,000 people contacting you in a matter of three days is unbelievable,” he said.

St. Joseph’s has a magnetic resonance imaging machine used primarily for research that is twice as strong as traditional machines.

CEO Kevin Smith has given the go-ahead for researchers to use it for a small pilot study of the theory, which is called chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency.

It will start in the new year and involve 20 to 30 MS patients getting MRI scans.

“This is a debilitating illness for many people and whenever you hear there might be something that can be profoundly impactful people get very hopeful so the important part is to confirm ... does this actually have some scientific merit?” said Smith.

Researchers at McMaster’s Brain-Body Institute at St. Joseph’s will do scans that, coupled with software created by Haacke, could determine whether the veins draining blood from the brain are constricted and if there is a buildup of iron.

Italian vascular surgeon Dr. Paolo Zamboni discovered those veins were blocked or malformed in more than 90 per cent of MS patients he studied using ultrasound including his wife.

As a result of the disrupted blood flow, there is a buildup of iron that could cause many of the symptoms of MS.

He performs an experimental surgery similar to angioplasty to unclog the veins and improve blood flow. He says it has worked for his wife and other patients.

Haacke, an adjunct professor at McMaster and expert in imaging who was also working on the role iron plays in MS, met Zamboni five weeks ago and offered to test his theory using the software he created that improves the resolution of MRI images and quantifies iron.

He’s turned his main lab in Detroit mostly over to this work despite having no funding for it.

He’s currently recruiting sites around the world to take part in the research, hoping to have initial results by spring.

“My role is really the torch bearer,” said Haacke. “I’m trying to co-ordinate this international study so we can get as many sites as possible on board to be testing this together.”

He says Edmonton, Saskatoon and Hamilton have signed on so far in Canada.

“We’re convinced here that we should be at least testing the theory because obviously it’s very important,” said John Bienenstock, director of the Brain-Body Institute.

“It would change the lives of these people and would produce a radically different view of the disease. However, it’s not been reproduced elsewhere yet.”

It’s essential other researchers try to reproduce Zamboni’s results with larger numbers of patients to see if his theory holds.

The MS Society of Canada has just put out a request for research grant proposals to study CCSVI.

Hamilton plans to apply so it can expand its study beyond 20 to 30 patients.

Haacke has also offered to examine the scans of any MS patient who can get an MRI following the protocols he’s set up.
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