(Apr 16, 2010)

The Italian doctor behind the theory that multiple sclerosis is a vascular disease says patients with no other option should get the treatment now instead of waiting for proof it works.

"They do not have time," said vascular surgeon Dr. Paolo Zamboni in an interview yesterday with The Spectator.

"I can totally understand the desperation of people without treatment that day by day are worsening."

He's urging governments to provide and fund, on compassionate grounds, the treatment called the liberation procedure. It involves inserting stents or balloons to open up malformed or blocked veins in the neck, which Zamboni believes plays a significant role in MS.

He says too many patients -- particularly from Canada -- are travelling abroad to get the procedure. He's had 56,000 MS patients worldwide, including thousands from Canada, contact him about getting tested or treated.

"I recommend to treat these patients in their home country," he said.

"Canada... is in the perfect position to offer to their patients this treatment."

Zamboni says it's "safe and cheaper" for patients who are rapidly declining, have tried all drugs treatments available and have no other options.

In contrast, he recommends MS patients who are not getting worse and have other treatments available should wait for more evidence before getting the procedure.

But the Ontario government considers the treatment to be "experimental" and won't fund it for anyone without more evidence that it works, says Ministry of Health spokesperson Andrew Morrison.

There are also no doctors in Canada providing the liberation procedure to MS patients.

Doctors and researchers overwhelmingly recommend patients wait for more evidence that malformed veins play a role in MS and that the treatment works.

Hamilton researchers are embarking on a study to test Zamboni's theory called chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency (CCSVI) that so far has been primarily funded by MS patients themselves.

The study, which will use MRI scans and ultrasound to compare the veins in the head of 100 MS patients with varying degrees of illness to 100 similar healthy people, needs at least $400,000 to get off the ground.

Zamboni says patients and their families shouldn't have to pay for the research themselves considering the promise his theory holds to revolutionize the treatment of MS, which until now was thought to be an autoimmune condition.

He believes research dollars should be freed up to test his theory.

So far only the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada -- after being pressured by patients -- has offered funding in Ontario and it's limited to $200,000 over two years.

"We need really to investigate CCSVI," Zamboni said. "It is irresponsible to not fund completely this kind of research."