Alberta continues study despite debunking of MS vein theory

Alberta’s health minister says the province will still complete a three-year study on the controversial Zamboni neck vein dilation treatment despite new results that debunk the theory.

Province never covered cost of controversial Zamboni neck vein dilation treatment

While the Zamboni MS vein theory faces criticism, multiple sclerosis research is thriving in Calgary. 5:30

Alberta’s Health Minister Fred Horne says the province will still complete a three-year study on the controversial Zamboni neck vein dilation treatment despite new results that debunk the theory.

Horne said it's an observational study, meaning the province has just been gathering the results of other studies.

The government promised in 2010 that it would spend up to $1 million to study the controversial vein-opening therapy for multiple sclerosis patients.

Canadian researchers released results this week that cast doubt on the effectiveness of vein therapy for people with MS. 

Italian vascular surgeon Paolo Zamboni promoted the therapy, which operates on the theory that clearing blocked veins — known as chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency or CCSVI — relieves MS symptoms.

A new Canadian study casts doubt on the link between MS and blocked neck veins. (CBC)

The study published in The Lancet looked into the prevalence of vein narrowing in people with MS, their siblings and unrelated people without the disease.

Researchers used two different methods, including ultrasound to visualize the veins.

MS patient swears by treatment

They found the narrowing was prevalent in all three groups of people, regardless of whether they had MS.

Still, thousands of Canadians have gone out of country for the risky dilation treatment.

MS sufferer Jordan York swears by the procedure. Since undergoing the controversial procedure in Costa Rica three years ago, he said his MS symptoms have become less severe.

"I had no hope, I lived without hope for close to 20 years,” he said.

He said now his mobility is better and his hands and feet are no longer freezing cold.

Alberta has never covered the cost of the controversial procedure, Horne said.

“In the case of Alberta, unlike other provinces, we have not been funding patients to be part of clinical trials for the procedure so we haven't been sending Albertans to other places in the world to receive the treatment,” he said.

Calgary researcher continues MS work

While the Alberta government continues its study, there is also some research being conducted at the University of Calgary that has made big strides in the last couple of years.

Dr. Wee Yong, a researcher and professor in the departments of clinical neurosciences, has been researching three diseases of the central nervous system for the past 15 years: MS, spinal cord injury and brain tumours. 

He is looking at the affects of over-active immune systems in patients and how the immune system crosses over into the brain and spinal cord to cause serious health problems.

Through his research he found a way of knowing how it crosses over and what can be done about it.

"We have discovered a molecule ... that helps to turn on and confer the capacity of the immune cells that enter into the brain and spinal cord. So by inhibiting this ... molecule with new medication that we have developed in a form of antibodies we can reduce the disease severity," he said.

Yong has partnered up with a Centre for Drug Research and Development in Vancouver to produce the medication and test it for safety.

Drug companies are very interested in the research, and the medication could go to clinical trials in the next three years. 

  • For more on Yong's work from CBC health and science contributor Lori Petryk, watch the second half of the video at the top of the page.


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