Canadian researchers investigating the relationship between multiple sclerosis and impaired blood drainage from the brain and spinal cord will receive $700,000 in funding for four projects, the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada announced Friday.

Between the Canadian and U.S. National MS Society, which are co-ordinating efforts, more than $2.4 million has been committed to support seven new research projects on chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency (CCSVI), originally described by Italian Dr. Paolo Zamboni.

The studies are needed because it's not yet known whether or how CCSVI contributes to MS, the society said.

The research aims to:

  • Confirm Zamboni's findings of abnormalities in the veins draining the brain and spinal cord in people with MS and whether CCSVI is a cause of the neurological disorder or related to it in some other way.
  • Resolve conflicting data from previous research, such as comparing vein abnormalities in people with MS, other neurological disorders and healthy volunteers.
  • Assess whether blockages occur, and if so, speed up therapeutic trials to determine if unblocking veins helps improve the symptoms of MS patients.

The studies will not involve surgical treatment. Some Canadians have gone overseas to private clinics to get an angioplasty-like procedure or metal stents to open up the blockages.

It is expected most Canadian participants will be recruited from existing lists of patients at MS clinics.

The teams receiving funding are led by:

  • Dr. Brenda Banwell, the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto: studying vein abnormalities in children and teenagers who have MS, and healthy controls of the same age. Banwell aims to determine whether veins are abnormal at an early age in pediatric MS patients.
  • Dr. Fiona Costello, Hotchkiss Brain Institute, University of Calgary: Examining 120 people with MS compared with people with other neurological diseases and healthy volunteers using ultrasound and magnetic resonance studies of veins.
  • Dr. Aaron Field, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health: Using MRI scans of the head and neck in people with early and later MS, healthy volunteers, and controls with other neurological conditions. If the team's results are similar to those published by Zamboni, it would confirm the hypothesis and lead toward treatment trials.
  • Dr. Robert Fox, Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland: Studying people with MS or who are at risk for MS and comparison groups, including healthy volunteers and people with brain shrinkage from Alzheimer's disease, to determine MS activity and atrophy.
  • Dr. Carlos Torres, The Ottawa Hospital, University of Ottawa: Using powerful 3 Tesla MRI technology to explore vein anatomy to assess for iron deposits in the brains of 50 people with MS and 50 healthy volunteers of the same age. The studies should lead to a better understanding of normal variations in vein anatomy draining the brain and clarify the potential role of venous insufficiency in MS.
  • Dr. Anthony Traboulsee, UBC Hospital MS Clinic, UBC Faculty of Medicine, and Dr. Katherine Knox, Saskatoon MS Clinic, University of Saskatchewan: studying the prevalence of CCSVI in people with MS and controls without MS, using catheter venography, ultrasound, and magnetic resonance venography, including in identical twins of MS patients who have not developed MS.
  • Dr. Jerry Wolinsky, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston: replicating Zamboni's ultrasound methods, testing whether other imaging methods can confirm ultrasound findings, and finding the most reliable screening technique for CCSVI.

The two-year grants will begin on July 1.

The society is also calling on the federal government to provide $10 million for research into CCSVI and MS.