Saskatchewan's health minister says research debunking a controversial multiple sclerosis treatment is not the death knell of the so-called "liberation therapy." Dustin Duncan says the provincial government may pursue research on the therapy in the future.
"There's still some unanswered questions of why some people do respond well symptomatically after having the liberation therapy," Duncan said.
Researchers from Saskatchewan and B.C. have found that a narrowing of veins leading from the brain to the heart is unlikely the cause of multiple sclerosis. They discovered that the narrowing is common and normal in most people.
"This was an important study to do, because many of my patients were going out of country to get their veins opened," said the University of Saskatchewan's Katherine Knox, who was a co-author of the study that appeared in Tuesday's online issue of The Lancet. "Some people may be less inclined to do this treatment now that our study has shown that this is a relatively common finding."
High percentage showed narrowing neck veins
The study looked at 177 adults -- 70 of those from Saskatchewan -- and compared the veins of people who had MS, people who didn't have MS, and people who didn't have MS but were related to people who had MS. In all three groups, around 75 per cent of the people showed narrowing of neck veins.
Dr. Anthony Traboulsee, a co-author on the study, told CBC News around 3,000 Canadians have travelled out of the country for dilation treatment. Many of those people said they swear by the therapy.
'I think there are still some unknown questions.' - Dustin Duncan, Saskatchewan health minister
"Our study didn't look to explain that and we don't have the answer for that," said Knox, an assistant professor with the U of S College of Medicine and director of the Saskatoon Health Region's MS clinic. "Placebo effect, from what the literature tells us, can happen and it can be powerful. I don't know if that particular patient improved because of placebo or due to some other factor."
Duncan said the study adds to the information available about the effects of liberation therapy, but there's more research to be done.
"I wouldn't say to this point, though, it would be conclusive evidence on the efficacy of CCSVI (chroniccerebrospinal venous insufficiency)," Duncan said. "I think there are still some unknown questions."
Large number of MS sufferers
Saskatchewan has one of the highest rates of MS in the country. Knox would like to see an MS Research Chair in the province to study the condition.
Per 100,000 people, 280 Canadians have MS, compared to 310 in Saskatchewan. Nova Scotia and PEI are the only provinces with higher rates than Saskatchewan.
"What we want to do is really engage with our research community, the MS community and really put them in the driver's seat in terms of where we go next," Duncan said.
Regina resident believes treatment works
Jacquie Sivertson was diagnosed with MS in 1988. Three years ago, she travelled to Hungary and spent $12,000 to get the so-called liberation therapy.
Since the procedure, Sivertson said she can walk and drive, which she couldn't before.
"To me, the proof is in the pudding," Sivertson said. "I've gained from it, so there's got to be something to it."
"I had way more strength and energy. I just couldn't believe how I could go walking and walking," she said. "One day in Sofia (Bulgaria), we walked around for about three hours."
Despite new research debunking the controversial treatment, Sivertson said she believes in the procedure.
"I would recommend everybody that I know who has symptoms of MS or whatnot to go and have the treatment," she said.