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Province faces increased pressure for CCSVI trials
Jessica Earle, ctvedmonton.ca
Published Sunday, April 10, 2011 6:44PM MDT
The Stelmach administration will soon receive a petition calling for research into a new MS treatment that's been performed on thousands around the world. It's a push that comes as a packed conference in Edmonton heard testimonies from people who've had the procedure, and the doctors who support it.
CCSVI treatment, invented by Italian physician Paolo Zamboni, uses balloon angioplasty to open up blocked veins in the necks of those who suffer from MS. Several countries have deemed the so-called Liberation Treatment safe, but Health Canada has yet to do so.
The province pledged $1 million for an observation study that started in December, monitoring the results of Albertans who've the procedure done in other countries.
Gene Zwozdesky, Alberta's Health Minister, says once there's enough evidence the procedure is safe, the province will invest more money.
"We will do clinical trials and we will give $6-7 million to those trials once the particular Zamboni treatment are okay for safety and ethical purposes," he said, admitting there are no hard timelines.
"We also have a major study going on in Calgary. Alberta is one of seven sites chosen to look more deeply into the effect of CCSVI and MS in general and the treatments."
Despite these measures, critics suggest the government is avoiding true action.
"We need to wake up and smell the coffee, and quit [stalling]," said Dr. Bill Code at the Mayfield Inn on Sunday, where hundreds gathered. "There's more than 12,000 [procedures] that have been done in the world already and if there were problems with it, gosh know we would've heard about them."
Code, who had the procedure done in California last November, salutes the Alberta chapter of Canada's MS society for an apology make a couple weeks ago; officials admitted their organization hasn't done enough to push for clinical trials given the strong surge in testimonies that the treatment works.
"That was a huge step forward - that was the first in the country, so hats off to Alberta MS Society," he said. "We should be doing a clinical trial here in Alberta, you've got the expertise."
Dr. Joseph Hewett, who performed the procedure on Code, also spoke at the conference. He says despite the $8,000 bill he hands out every time he performs the treatment, he'd rather patients from up North get their treatment within their own borders.
"Frankly I'd rather them get it done in Canada," he said.
Shelly Witiuk, who was diagnosed with secondary progressive MS, is someone who wishes that was an option. She doesn't have the means to get the procedure done abroad and says she's angry about delays in Canada because the more time goes on, the more her condition worsens.
"This can change peoples' lives so it frustrates me that government is not more open to it," she said.
"You don't know what is going to happen to you next, [the procedure is] something that has to be done immediately, there is no time…. I went to two canes, then a walker, and in 2008 I ended up in a wheelchair."
With Files from Kevin Armstrong