The Liberation Treatment?

Leo Kolivakis's picture


Submitted by Leo Kolivakis, publisher of Pension Pulse.

For
the first time in a long time, I am excited about a new treatment for
multiple sclerosis (MS). CTV's W5 just had an episode on The Liberation Treatment: A whole new approach to MS:

Amid
the centuries-old castles of the ancient city of Ferrara is a doctor
who has come upon an entirely new idea about how to treat multiple
sclerosis, one that may profoundly change the lives of patients.

 

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.

 

"In
my mind, this was unbelievable evidence that further study was
necessary to understand the link between venous function and iron
deposits on the other," Zamboni told W5 from his research lab in
Ferrara.

 

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.

 

"For
me, it was really unbelievable to understand that iron deposits in MS
were exactly around the veins. So probably, it is a dysfunction of
drainage of the veins," Zamboni said.

 

"This is very important,
because iron is very dangerous, because it produces free radicals, and
free radicals are killers for cells. So we need to eliminate iron
accumulation."

 

Zamboni dubbed the vein disorder he discovered
CCSVI, or Chronic Cerebrospinal Venous Insufficiency, and began
publishing his preliminary research in neurology journals.

 

He
soon found that the severity of the vein blockages were located
corresponded to the severity of the patient's symptoms. Patients with
only one vein blocked usually had milder forms of the disease; those
with two or more damaged veins had more severe illness.

 

Zamboni
found blockages not only in the veins in the neck directly beneath the
brain -- the jugular veins --but in a central drainage vein, the azygos
vein, which flushes blood down from the brain along the spine.
Blockages here, he found were associated with the most severe form of
MS, primary progressive, in which patients rapidly deteriorate. For
this form of MS, there currently is no effective treatment.

 

As
for how these vein abnormalities form, Zamboni isn't sure. He believes,
though, that congenital defects, problems that likely formed before
birth, can be blamed for most of the problems, though this has not been
conclusively proven.

 

Most neurologists Zamboni initially
approached with his findings dismissed them. But one specialist, Dr. F.
Salvi, at Bellaria Hospital in Bologna, was intrigued by the concept.
He began sending Zamboni MS patients for CCVIS testing, to see if what
he was finding was correct. The images of narrowed or blocked veins,
called "strictures," were irrefutable for Salvi.

 

Focus on a treatment

 

But
Dr. Zamboni had an even more important idea. If key veins of MS
patients were blocked, perhaps he could open them and restore normal
blood flow?

 

Taking a page from standard angiography, in which
doctors use balloons to open up blocked arteries that feed blood from
the heart, he enlisted the help of vascular surgeon Dr. R. Galeotti,
also at the University of Ferrara and Santa Anna Hospital. 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.

 

The study detailing those results will be
published in the Journal of Vascular Surgery on Nov. 24. 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."

Zamboni's
sense is that the earlier patients are diagnosed and treated, the more
function they will preserve, and the less damage the improper blood
flow will do to the brain.

 

"Because
MS is a progressive disease and strikes young people, if we lose time,
there are a lot of young people that will progress without possibility
to get back. This is very heavy for me," he says.

 

Zamboni has
also been studying the prevalence of CCSVI with a team at the
University of Buffalo in New York, in collaboration with Dr. Robert
Zivadinov. That study, to be published in January, has looked at 16 MS
patients, including eight from the U.S and eight from Italy. All have
been found to have blocked veins of CCSVI, just as Zamboni described,
and all eventually underwent the Liberation Treatment.

 

Relief for patients

 

One
of those patients was Buffalo resident Kevin Lipp. Lipp had MS for over
a decade, and as part of the study, discovered he had five blocked
veins in his neck. After undergoing the Liberation Treatment 10 months
ago, he says he hasn't had a single new MS attack.

 

Zamboni
emphasizes that the Liberation Treatment does not make people in
wheelchairs walk again. Rather, it seems to stop the development of
further MS attacks, and in some cases, improves movement and decreases
the debilitating fatigue that are the hallmarks of MS.

 

The foundation that has sponsored Zamboni's research, the Hilarescere Foundation, also urges cautious restraint.

 

"We
can't give the illusion to patients that this is a guaranteed treatment
and it is easy. This is not right. And we have never done this," says
Hilarescere President Fabio Roversi-Monaco. "We don't say this is a
cure for M.S. We only say that research is advancing, and there is
encouraging data but we are waiting for more conclusions."

Dr.
Zivadinov in Buffalo is now starting a new study, recruiting 1,600
adults and 100 children, half of them MS patients. He plans to use
ultrasound and MRI scans to confirm if those with MS also have CCSVI
and if their family members have the abnormalities too.

 

Prof.
Mark Haake, a neuro-imaging scientist at McMaster University and Wayne
State University in Detroit is also intrigued by Zamboni's findings. He
has long been seeing iron deposits in the brains of MS patients using a
specialized MRI analysis called SWI - specific weighted imaging. When
he saw Zamboni's initial publications, he immediately contacted the
Italian doctor and began collaborating.

 

Population studies under way

 

Haake
too is initiating a study, asking neurological centres across North
America and Europe to take some extra MRI scans of the neck and upper
chest of MS patients. The scans can then be electronically sent to his
research team for analysis. He believes this grassroots approach could
spur larger and more in depth studies. He's hoping he can engage MS
specialists and vascular surgeons, interventional radiologist around
the world to study the theory and then move to diagnosing and treating
MS patients quickly.

 

"I think patients do play a role, because
there are millions and millions of dollars donated to MS Societies and
a lot of money set aside by the government to study MS research and
right now, 99.9 per cent of that money goes somewhere else," he told
W5.

 

"So the patients need to speak up and say 'We want
something like this investigated, at least at an early stage, to see if
there is credence to this theory.' Even if it is 10 or 20 per cent of
these people who can be helped, that needs to be investigated," says
Haacke.

 

Haake's research is being done with no funding; he's
unwilling to wait the nine months to a year needed to get formal
research funding applications approved. Urgency, he says, is needed in
finding the answer to the question of whether Dr. Zamboni is right.

 

"Certainly, I continue my battle because I am fully convinced that this is the right thing for the patient," he says.

 

The
MS Societies of Canada and the U.S. are reticent to support Zamboni's
theories. They maintain that: "Based on results published about these
findings to date, there is not enough evidence to say that obstruction
of veins causes MS... It is still not clear whether relieving venous
obstructions would be beneficial."

 

Interest in CCSVI growing

 

But
CCSVI has become a subject of intense interest among MS patients who
are texting and emailing details of Zamboni's work, locating the few
centres around the world that have started to work on studies on CCSVI
and the Liberation Treatment.

 

Zamboni says every day, MS
patients hear about his theory and either write, email or call him
asking for treatment he can't yet provide. Still, some surgeons in the
U.S. are now offering the surgery Zamboni's team has pioneered.

 

Jeff
Beal, an L.A-based, Emmy-Award-winning musical director has already
paid to have the surgery procedure. After he was diagnosed with MS five
years ago, he was left unable to work a full day and worrying he would
spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. Unable to come to terms
with the diagnosis, his wife, Joan, set to find new treatments and
eventually came upon Zamboni's work. Unable to get her husband treated
in Italy, she convinced a Californian vascular surgeon who already
performs similar surgery on leg veins to look at Zamboni's work and
test Jeff for CCSVI. Jeff was diagnosed with two blocked jugular veins
and treated with the Liberation Treatment. (with a slightly different
procedure than the italan one..using Stents) He now says he has much
more energy and none of the chronic fatigue that used to limit his
activity.

 

"I reached what I would call sort of a higher
plateau, in the sense of the most debilitating symptom, which is the
fatigue. So, I still have fatigue every day, I still battle it; it's
still one of my symptoms. But in terms of the total reservoir of
energy, it's much greater than it used to be. And that's a huge gift,
especially to my family," Beal told W5.

 

His wife Joan was delighted with the surgery's results.

 

"Suddenly,
he's helping Henry with his homework and he's playing trumpet duets
with Henry and he's awake. And there's this presence in the house that
hadn't been there for two years," she said.

 

Joan has now
become a "cheerleader" of Zamboni's work on MS chat sites, urging other
patients to show their neurologists the material being published by the
Italian team and to ask them to consider setting up a study in other MS
clinics.

 

Among all of Zamboni's success stories and the
patients who sing his praises is his wife Elena. Her MS caused her to
lose her vision for a time and develop what she called "violent"
attacks. She had difficulty walking and was losing her balance and
feared a life in a wheelchair unable to care for herself. Elena became
one of her husband's first ultrasound test patients and was found to
have a complete closure of the azygos vein in her central chest. She
was one of the first to be liberated almost three years ago. After
having regular debilitating MS attacks for nearly a decade before,
Elena has been symptom-free ever since. An elegant, intelligent woman,
she now has a quick walk, with no sign of disability. Her husband
couldn't be happier.

 

"What I think is this is probably the best prize of the research," says Zamboni.

 

[Note: Watch the segment by clicking on this link. Watch it all since it continues after commercials.]

I urge all MS patients to get tested for narrowing, twisting or
outright blockage of the veins (this is an easy procedure). Beware of
the reticence of the MS Societies of Canada and the U.S.. They are
notoriously pro drug companies and will discourage patients from
getting tested for blockage or pursuing this treatment.

When it
comes to my health, I am going to do what's best for me. I am going to
get tested as soon as possible and if they do find blockage or
narrowing, I will not wait for three independent placebo controlled
trials before seeking treatment. As Dr. Zamboni said, time is of the
essence because MS is a progressive disease.

If you know of any
MS patients struggling with the disease, please tell them about this
new treatment. It's crucial that patients be aware of this novel
approach for treating this disease.