Experimental MS surgery draws Canadian interest

The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada has announced it will fund research into the link between MS and a condition known as chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency (CCSVI), which was the focus of a recent study that has ignited the hopes of MS patients worldwide.

The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada has announced it will fund research into the link between MS and a condition known as chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency (CCSVI), which was the focus of a recent study that has ignited the hopes of MS patients worldwide.

The Society said Monday that it will be accepting research proposals on the topic from Canadian scientists between Dec. 9 and Jan. 22, 2010.

The decision to fund the research was spurred by the overwhelming interest in the results of a recent study by Italian vascular surgeon Dr. Paolo Zamboni, a professor of medicine at the University of Ferrara in Italy. 

Zamboni has suggested that CCSVI could be a cause of MS and reported that a procedure to alleviate CCSVI has reduced the symptoms of people who suffer from multiple sclerosis.

The MS Society describes CCSVI as "a hypothetical disruption of blood flow in which the venous system is not able to efficiently remove blood from the central nervous system, resulting in increased pressure in the veins of the brain and spinal cord, which in turn results in damage to these areas."

It is though the disruption is related to a narrowing of small venous structures in the neck, chest and spine, the society's website said.

Zamboni has revived the idea that this disruption in blood flow and drainage is present in people with MS and devised an experimental procedure that involves removing the blockage in the veins that carry blood to and from the brain.

So far, he has performed the angioplasty-like surgery, known as "la liberation" in Italian, on 120 MS patients, including his wife, whose multiple sclerosis provoked his interest in tackling the disease.

MS Society cautious about linking MS, blood flow dysfunction

The Canadian MS organization has reacted to Zamboni's research with caution. On Monday, however, the society said that after receiving so many inquiries about the procedure, it has decided to offer a grant to researchers in Canada.

In the meantime, the society urged people with MS to be patient and continue with their regular treatment until there is more evidence about the experimental procedure.

Multiple sclerosis is considered a neurodegenerative disease that attacks the brain and spinal cord, causing inflammation and damage that can lead to paralysis and sometimes blindness. Nerve fibres that send electrical signals in the brain are coated in a fatty sheath called myelin. Myelin acts as an insulator, like a plastic coating covering a copper wire.

The symptoms of MS are caused by the breakdown of myelin, which leads to problems in how messages are transmitted to the central nervous system.

Conventional wisdom suggests multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disorder caused by immune cells attacking neurons and the brain.

But Zamboni thinks a drainage problem is to blame and that the condition can be treated or prevented by surgically unclogging veins to get blood flowing normally again.

'Tremendous interest'

Yves Savoie, president and chief executive officer of the MS Society, said he's aware of the "tremendous interest across Canada and around the world caused by the recent news coverage of the CCSVI study," and shares the public's excitement and hope following the preliminary findings.

Dr. Robert Zivadinov of the University of Buffalo is leading a study that hopes to enroll more than 1,000 MS patients from the United States and Canada to undergo ultrasound and MRI neck scans to detect blocked or twisted veins.

Canadians with multiple sclerosis who want to know more about the procedure can go through the St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton health sciences centre, where researchers are able to analyze blood flow in and out of the brain.

Since CTV's current affairs program W5 and the Globe and Mail publicized Zamboni's research on the weekend, the Brain-Body Institute at St. Joseph's has received a "flood" of interest, Dr. John Bienenstock, director of the institute, said in an email.

With files from The Canadian Press