It is well-established that the symptoms of MS are caused by a breakdown of myelin, a fatty substance that coats nerve cells and plays a crucial role in transmitting messages to the central nervous system. When those messages are blurred, nerves malfunction, causing all manner of woes, including blurred eyesight, loss of sensation in the limbs and even paralysis.
However, it is unclear what triggers the breakdown of myelin. There are various theories, including exposure to a virus in childhood, vitamin D deficiency, hormones - and now, buildup of iron in the brain because of poor blood flow.
While he is convinced of the significance of his discovery, Dr. Zamboni recognizes that medicine is slow to accept new theories and even slower to act on them. Regardless, he can take satisfaction in knowing that the woman who inspired the quest, and perhaps a dramatic breakthrough, has benefited tremendously.
Dr. Zamboni's wife, Elena, has undergone a battery of scans and neurological tests and her multiple sclerosis is, for all intents and purposes, gone.
"This is probably the best prize of the research," he said.
André Picard is the public health reporter at The Globe and Mail. Avis Favaro is the medical correspondent at CTV News.
With reports from Elizabeth St. Philip, CTV News
Watch W5's documentary on the groundbreaking new treatment for multiple sclerosis, which includes the first time the "liberation" surgery was filmed.
It is available on the Web at www.W5.ctv.ca, and will be replayed Sunday on CTV Newschannel.
MS IN CANADA
An estimated 55,000-75,000 Canadians have multiple sclerosis, and every day three more people in Canada are diagnosed with the disease. Canada has one of the highest rates of MS in the world. MS is the most common neurological disease affecting young adults in Canada.
- Women are more than three times as likely as men to develop MS.
- MS can cause loss of balance, heat sensitivity, impaired speech, extreme fatigue, double vision and paralysis. The disease is characterized by lesions on the brain, a result of the breakdown of myelin, the protective covering wrapped around the nerves of the central nervous system.
- The most common treatment for MS is corticosteroids. Steroids reduce inflammation at the site of new demyelination, lessening symptoms.
- MS was first identified and described by French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot in 1868.
- MS is widely believed to be an autoimmune disorder, but the cause or causes are unknown. There are a number of theories about what might trigger the disease, including exposure to a virus in childhood; exposure to tobacco smoke; lack of the female sex hormone prolactin, which plays a role in the development of myelin; and vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D may play a role in MS because it helps to construct the interior layer of blood vessels.
- Despite the long-held assumption that MS is an autoimmune disorder, new research suggests it is actually a vascular disease triggered by a buildup of iron in the brain due to problems in blood flow.
Source: MS Society of Canada