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medical research

Leona Aglukkaq has accepted the recommendation of the federal agency that funds health research, which said this week it is too soon to conduct clinical trials of a controversial new procedure to treat multiple sclerosis.

"I feel the most prudent course of action at this time is to accept the recommendation of the country's leading researchers," the federal Health Minister told a news conference on Wednesday.

Ms. Aglukkaq said the procedure, which is called liberation therapy, is invasive and is too risky to put to human trials.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research convened a panel of experts that decided unanimously there is no evidence that the procedure is safe, that it works or that the science behind it is sound.

The CIHR recommended that clinical trials wait for the results of seven studies that have been funded by the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada to determine if the disease is related to the flow of blood to the brain.

Liberation therapy has been hotly contested among MS patients since Italian doctor Paolo Zamboni published results of a recent study that posits the condition as a vascular disorder caused by vein blockages that lead to a build-up of iron rather than an auto-immune disease. Dr. Zamboni says he has treated MS with a simple surgical procedure - angioplasty.

Saskatchewan jumped ahead of the rest of the country in saying it would fund clinical trials of the procedure, which has raised the hopes of the many Canadians afflicted with the debilitating illness.

News the government of Canada is not prepared to move quickly to fund clinical trials will be a major disappointment to many MS patients, who are pinning their hopes on the procedure to treat what is still an incurable disease. Some patients are paying thousands of dollars of their own money to have the procedure performed in other countries.

Yves Savoie, the president of the MS Society said his organization will monitor the results of the studies it is funding and if they suggest the procedure works, they will recommend that the trial phase be quickly implemented.

Ms. Aglukkaq said she welcomed the resources that provinces like Saskatchewan have directed towards the issue.

But Mr. Savoie said any real clinical trial would require a pan-Canadian approach involving at least 1,000 patients. "A single province, or a single site, would simply not be a way to get to the definitive answers that we all want."

Saskatchewan has said it will proceed with trials regardless of the direction taken by the federal government.