Note: filistro is on vacation. This article was previously written.
“Liberation Therapy” sounds like counseling classes for the newly divorced, but in reality it is one of the most stunning (and controversial) breakthroughs in modern medicine, with the potential to impact the lives of millions suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS), a particularly cruel ailment.
Dr. Paolo Zamboni, a former vascular surgeon and professor at the University of Ferrara in northern Italy, began asking questions about the debilitating condition a decade ago, when his wife Elena, now 51, was diagnosed with MS.
Watching his wife Elena struggle with the fatigue, muscle weakness and visual problems of MS led Zamboni to begin an intense personal search for the cause of her disease. He found that scientists who had studied the brains of MS patients had noticed higher levels of iron in their brain, not accounted for by age. The iron deposits had a unique pattern, often forming in the core of the brain, clustered around the veins that normally drain blood from the head. No one had ever fully explained this phenomenon, considering the excess iron a toxic byproduct of the MS itself.
Dr. Zamboni wondered if the iron came from blood improperly collecting in the brain. Using Doppler ultrasound, he began examining the necks of MS patients and made an extraordinary finding. Almost 100 per cent of the patients had a narrowing, twisting or outright blockage of the veins that are supposed to flush blood from the brain. He then checked these veins in healthy people, and found none of these malformations. Nor did he find these blockages in those with other neurological conditions.
What was equally astounding, was that not only was the blood not flowing out of the brain, it was “refluxing” reversing and flowing back upwards. Zamboni believes that as the blood moves into the brain, pressure builds in the veins, forcing blood into the brain’s grey matter where it sets off a host of reactions, possibly explaining the symptoms of MS.
Dr. Zamboni enlisted the help of vascular surgeon Dr. R. Galeotti, also at the University of Ferrara and Santa Anna Hospital. Together they developed a technique to clear the neck veins of MS sufferers that is sort of a combination of angioplasty and roto-rooter. Three years ago, the team began a study in which they treated 65 MS patients to see if endovascular surgery would restore flow in these vessels and lessen MS symptoms.
But preliminary results, already released, show patients had a decrease in the number of new MS attacks, a big reduction in the number of brain lesions that define MS, and improved quality of life. The only time symptoms returned for the patients was when the veins re-narrowed. Because the surgery freed the blood flow, the team dubbed the procedure “The Liberation Treatment.”
News of liberation therapy has been widely publicized in Canada. As a result, Canadians suffering from the ravages of MS have been wildly excited about this procedure, and many have travelled to Europe to have the surgery performed. Newspapers and Canadian television documentary shows are filled with anecdotal reports of astonishing, almost miraculous results. Three provinces…Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Alberta…are now funding studies of the procedure, and the Canadian government has committed to providing and funding liberation therapy for its citizens if these studies prove it is safe and effective.
So Canada…home of the dreaded “rationed health care,” will be covering the cost of this new treatment as soon as it can be proven safe. I wonder if those oh-so-compassionate health insurers in the United States will be getting on board as quickly for their clients who are suffering from one of nature’s most brutal and heartbreaking diseases.