I am confident that this could be a revolution for the research and diagnosis of multiple sclerosis Dr. Paolo Zamboni
Augusto Zeppi, a 40-year-old resident of the northern Italian city of Ferrara, was one of those patients. Diagnosed with MS nine years ago, he suffered severe attacks every four months that lasted weeks at a time - leaving him unable to use his arms and legs and with debilitating fatigue. "Everything I was dreaming for my future adult life, it was game over," he said.
Scans showed that his two jugular veins were blocked, 60 and 80 per cent respectively. In 2007, he was one of the first to undergo the experimental surgery to unblock the veins. He had a second operation a year later, when one of his jugular veins was blocked anew.
After the procedures, Mr. Zeppi said he was reborn. "I don't remember what it's like to have MS," he said. "It gave me a second life."
Buffalo researchers are now recruiting 1,700 adults and children from the United States and Canada. They plan to test MS sufferers and non-sufferers alike and, using ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging, do detailed analyses of blood flow in and out of the brain and examine iron deposits.
Another researcher, Mark Haacke, an adjunct professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, is urging patients to send him MRI scans of their heads and necks so he can probe the Zamboni theory further. Dr. Haacke is a world-renowned expert in imaging who has developed a method of measuring iron buildup in the brain.
"Patients need to speak up and say they want something like this investigated … to see if there's credence to the theory," he said.
MS societies in Canada and the United States, however, have reacted far more cautiously to Dr. Zamboni's conclusion. "Many questions remain about how and when this phenomenon might play a role in nervous system damage seen in MS, and at the present time there is insufficient evidence to suggest that this phenomenon is the cause of MS," said the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada.
The U.S. society goes further, discouraging patients from getting tested or seeking surgical treatment. Rather, it continues to promote drug treatments used to alleviate symptoms, which include corticosteroids, chemotherapy agents and pain medication.
Many people with multiple sclerosis, though, are impatient for results. Chatter about CCSVI is frequent in online MS support groups, and patients are scrambling to be part of the research, particularly when they hear the testimonials.
Kevin Lipp, a 49-year-old resident of Buffalo, was diagnosed with MS a decade ago and has suffered increasingly severe attacks, especially in the heat. (Heat sensitivity is a common symptom of MS.) His symptoms were so bad that he was unable to work and closed his ice-cream shop.
Mr. Lipp was tested and doctors discovered blockages in both his jugular and azygos veins. In January of this year, he travelled to Italy for surgery, which cleared five blockages, and he began to feel better almost immediately.
"I felt good. I felt totally normal. I felt like I did years ago," he said. He has not had an attack since.
As part of the research project, Mr. Lipp's siblings have also been tested. His two sisters, both of whom have MS, have significant blockages and iron deposits, while his brother, who does not have MS, has neither iron buildup nor blocked arteries.
While it has long been known that there is a genetic component to multiple sclerosis, the new theory is that it is CCSVI that is hereditary - that people are born with malformed valves and strictures in the large veins of the neck and brain. These problems lead to poor blood drainage and even reversal of blood flow direction that can cause inflammation, iron buildup and the brain lesions characteristic of multiple sclerosis.