Saskatchewan is ready to help pay for clinical trials of the so-called liberation treatment for multiple sclerosis sufferers, despite a lack of scientific evidence that it might work, says Premier Brad Wall.
"There isn't unanimity on the issue, I understand that," Wall said Tuesday. "But we also know anecdotally and otherwise, frankly, of reasons for some optimism and some hope about the liberation treatment, so maybe it is time for clinical trials and … the Province of Saskatchewan is willing to play a funding role."
The treatment is based on an unproven theory — put forward by Italian doctor Paolo Zamboni — that blocked veins in the neck or spinal cord are to blame for MS. Clinics in Poland, Bulgaria and India are opening blockages for patients who have flocked from Canada and other countries in the last few months.
Some patients have posted testimonials on websites, in chat rooms and in YouTube videos, saying the procedure has reduced their symptoms. That has created political pressure to have the treatment provided in Canada.
Saskatchewan has the highest rate of multiple sclerosis among provinces, with an estimated 3,500 residents affected by it.
"There isn't anybody who doesn't have a family member or friend who is battling it," Wall said.
Many medical experts are urging caution. Dr. Paul Hébert, a critical-care physician and editor-in-chief of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, has said that manipulating veins can be dangerous and there is no established link between venous blockages and MS.
"To date, the published evidence is limited to a case series of 65 patients," Hébert wrote in a recent edition of the journal.
He and others believe important questions must be answered before clinical trials on humans can begin:
- Do people with MS really have higher rates of venous blockages?
- Are those blockages a cause of or a result of the disease?
- Can veins be dilated or opened safely?
For Wall, clinical trials are the way to go. His government is inviting proposals from the scientific community and expects to get them shortly.
"We want to be a leader in at least exploring every possible source of hope for those who are battling MS."