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Manitoba health minister wants national trials of controversial MS procedure

Manitoba's health minister called Monday for a national clinical trial of a controversial treatment for multiple sclerosis that has lured some Canadians overseas.

"I am writing seeking support for a pan-Canadian randomized clinical trial of the efficacy of the so-called liberation procedure," Theresa Oswald wrote in a letter to the other provincial, federal and territorial health ministers.

"Patients living with multiple sclerosis have been waiting for too long for a treatment breakthrough and many feel the liberation procedure may be it."

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The liberation treatment is based on an unproven theory that blocked veins in the neck or spinal cord are to blame for MS, a chronic disease of the nervous system that can affect vision, hearing, memory, balance and mobility. Clinics in Poland, Bulgaria and India are opening blockages for patients who have flocked from Canada and other countries in the past few months.

Some patients have posted testimonials on websites, in chat rooms and in YouTube videos, saying the procedure has reduced their symptoms. However, two recent studies have cast doubt on the effectiveness of the treatment, and some experts have raised concerns about the potential danger of manipulating veins.

Dr. Paul Hebert, a critical-care physician and editor-in-chief of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, has said no link has been established between venous blockages and MS.

The MS community is divided on the issue, with many saying more studies are needed before the treatment can be tested on humans.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall offered last month to pay for clinical trials of the procedure in his province. But Ms. Oswald wants the provinces and Ottawa to work together.

"There is no doubt that a pan-Canadian clinical trial will produce better results than a patchwork approach," she wrote.

Ms.Oswald wants the issue on the agenda for the annual meeting of health ministers, set for next month.

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