Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Experimental MS treatment called into question

Interesting, but unfortunate:

A controversial theory about the cause of multiple sclerosis that has given new hope to thousands of patients suffered a setback as two new studies for the first time threw doubt on the findings.

Pioneered by Italian physician Paolo Zamboni, the theory suggests that MS is a vascular disorder caused by vein blockages that lead to a buildup of iron in the brain, rather than an autoimmune disease, and can be treated by a simple surgical procedure – angioplasty. While the procedure has yet to undergo clinical trials in Canada, MS patients here have shelled out thousands of dollars for the unproven and experimental treatment in countries such as India and Poland. Last week, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall announced his province would finance clinical trials, despite caution expressed by other premiers, the MS Society of Canada and others in the medical community.

New research from Germany and Sweden that provides the first negative medical evidence on Dr. Zamboni’s theory could bolster the campaign of critics. The studies, published Monday in the Annals of Neurology, found no unusual blockages in the veins of MS patients compared with control groups.

From the Globe and Mail. Of course, the perfectly natural question to ask is "but what about the people the procedure has helped?" Quite possibly a placebo effect, according to some:
The PTA work did not use a control group. As a result, it is likely - given what we know about the placebo effect in MS patients who enter studies of novel treatments - that all of the benefits were the result of the powerful belief in the treatment, rather than anything related to improved blood flow.
From the Montreal Gazette. It should be noted that the study mentioned above may not be conclusive either, but a lot of people have been suspicious of this before (for instance, no province except Saskatchewan is funding the treatment in Canada).

One thing's clear; if it turns out that Zamboni's procedure is a placebo it would be a bummer to find out about it, because this would cause a previously effective treatment to stop working -- especially if you'd already spent a bundle of cash to get it done.

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