Government to fund MS liberation therapy

80-90 patients will go to Albany, NY

By Mac Christie

The Saskatchewan government recently announced a program to send 80-90 multiple sclerosis patients from the province to Albany, NY to take part in a clinical trial looking at the effectiveness of liberation therapy.

The controversial therapy, developed by Italian Dr. Paolo Zamboni in 2009, involves the use of angioplasty to clear blood vessels that drain blood from the brain. He theorized that these blockages cause a buildup of iron in the brain, leading to neurological symptoms of MS.

Health Minister Don McMorris said the government originally planned to do clinical trials in the province, but found that wasn’t possible.

“We said, “If it’s not going to trials right here in Saskatchewan, what can we do?’” McMorris noted. “We looked at various opportunities and ended up partnering with the Albany clinic and Dr. Gary Siskin down in New York.”

The government will provide $2 million to fund the program, which is expected to be finalized in two to three months.

McMorris said the number was set at 80-90 because that’s how many openings the clinic could provide. He added though the patients will have the procedure in Albany, the follow-up work is expected to be done in Saskatchewan.

“It will be an open call and when people apply they’ll have to go through quite a stringent criteria checklist before they’re put into a group to be selected,” McMorris said of the participants, adding who is selected will depend on the clinic’s criteria.

Meadow Lake’s Green had therapy in 2010

Sandra Green, 53, of Meadow Lake, was diagnosed with MS in 1990.

She paid to have the liberation therapy done in Costa Rica last September and hoped the procedure would help her regain some of her mobility.

“It was something I knew I wanted to do,” she said. “You don’t want to look back in 10 years and say, ‘Oh I wish I would have done it.’”

While it didn’t have the results Green was hoping for, it did help reduce swelling in her feet. Even so, she would recommend the therapy to other MS patients.

“Especially I think, if I was newly diagnosed with MS,” she added. “Maybe you could stop it in its tracks before it got to the point where I am. I don’t regret for one minute I had it done.”

Green said while it’s disappointing the New York procedure can’t be done in Saskatchewan, she thinks the program is a good thing, presuming it’s well organized.

“I’m hoping it’s not something the government is throwing together on a whim,” she said. “But I think somebody’s on the right track.”

McMorris said the provincial government will continue to try and advance the science behind the treatment of MS, and prove or disprove the efficacy of liberation treatment.

“We have one of the highest incidences of MS anywhere in Canada right here in Saskatchewan,” he said. “We just feel it’s our obligation as a government to try and advance the science.”

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