Push for MS treatment bolstered

But B.C. won't follow Saskatchewan in funding clinical trials

News that Saskatchewan will fund clinical trials of a controversial treatment for multiple sclerosis while B.C. continues to drag its feet is bittersweet, says Victoria's Shara Grice.

"I think it's fantastic and I'm really proud of Saskatchewan for being a leader in Canada, and I really wish B.C. would follow suit," said Grice, 33.

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In announcing the funding, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall called the so-called "liberation" procedure an "avenue of hope" for patients stricken with the debilitating disease.

Wall said he plans to raise the issue at next week's Council of the Federation meeting with other provincial and territorial leaders, but is willing to come up with funding for clinical trials as early as 2011 "even if it means we're going it alone in Canada."

There are up to 75,000 people with multiple sclerosis in Canada, and as many as 10,000 in B.C.

Currently, four research projects funded by the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada are being carried out "that did not exist in November," said spokeswoman Suzanne Jay.

That research must conclude before proceeding with appropriate and safe treatments, the B.C. Health Ministry said in a statement yesterday. A clinical trial involves doing procedures on or giving drugs to people, while the research currently being conducted in Canada are initial-stage investigations that could lead to clinical trials.

Pressure to research new methods of relieving the symptoms of MS grew after media attention on the so-called liberation therapy based on the theory of Italian neurologist Dr. Paolo Zamboni. He maintains that a narrowing or blockage of veins in the neck that drain blood from the brain -- a medical condition he calls chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency -- may cause such symptoms.

Zamboni contends that a surgical procedure similar to balloon angioplasty that unblocks coronary and other arteries -- called PTA, or percutaneous transluminal angioplasty -- dilates these narrowed or blocked veins. That improves blood flow, balance and walking, while reducing dizziness, fatigue, muscle spasms and incontinence, he says.

Zamboni's initial study reported that 73 per cent of patients who underwent the procedure reported a decrease in MS-associated symptoms.

Victoria's Valerie MacNeil, who spent $7,000 to travel to Poland to get the procedure done, says it was worth every penny. She says she's not an "invalid" anymore and has more energy.

Some medical experts have suggested a placebo effect could account for the reported improvements in symptoms.

If the results are just a placebo effect, "sign me up," Grice said.

Diagnosed with a secondary, progressive form of MS at 20, Grice now uses a cane.

Her friends started fundraising for her in May to have the liberation procedure in the fall, either in New York or Poland. They've raised $6,000 thus far and her goal is $20,000. Anything left over would be paid forward to others suffering with MS.

"This would be a whole new beginning for me," she said. "I've never known an adult life without MS."

ceharnett@tc.canwest.com

-- With files from Postmedia News

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