A Saskatoon man with multiple sclerosis is flying to the United States today as the first person being sent by the province to take part in clinical trials for experimental vein therapy.
Andrew Dahlen, 28, flew to Albany, N.Y., on Monday to undergo a final assessment in order to join a two-year study of the so-called liberation therapy for MS.
"What would you do to prepare yourself? Like, what's one supposed to do? I'm not used to this kind of stuff," Dahlen told CBC News before he boarded a plane from Saskatoon.
"You just keep on doing what you always do. You can't really get ready for it because I have no idea what's going to happen."
Dahlen is the first of 86 MS patients from Saskatchewan who have been selected by the provincial government to participate in the clinical trials in Albany.
The trials will test the effectiveness of the therapy, in which tiny balloons are surgically inserted to open up constricted veins.
All of the trial participants will undergo surgery, but only about half will get the liberation treatment.
Furthermore, none of the participants will know what treatment they underwent until the two-year trial process is over.
Hundreds of patients from Canada have gone to the U.S. or overseas for liberation therapy, and many have said it provided them with relief from their symptoms.
However, a number of medical experts have argued that the therapy does not work, or that the relief it provides is temporary or can be explained by the placebo effect.
No Canadian province currently pays for the procedure, which costs thousands of dollars per treatment, so people who leave the country for it must cover the costs themselves.
Saskatchewan does not pay for the procedure either, but has set aside $2.2 million to have the 86 patients take part in the Albany trials.
Gordon McKay, who chairs the University of Saskatchewan's Biomedical Research Ethics Board, said he will be watching the clinical trials closely.
"There's lots of controversy around this procedure, and that's what's really clouded the applicability and the acceptance and the ability to move forward for treatment in patients," he said.
McKay said maintaining a true double-blind study — meaning neither patients nor doctors knows who is getting the actual treatment — is key to obtaining useful results from the clinical trials.