Controversial “liberation therapy” not effective in treating multiple sclerosis

8 March 2017

MSFHR is committed to supporting research that facilitates evidence-based decision-making at both health policy and treatment-specific levels. The Foundation is pleased to have supported research on the controversial “liberation therapy” to contribute to the growing body of evidence and help people with MS and their physicians make informed treatment decisions.

Since 2009, thousands of people with multiple sclerosis (MS) have undergone a controversial treatment to open up narrowed veins from the brain and spinal cord. This so called “liberation therapy” proposes venoplasty as an effective, one-off treatment for MS.

Despite the lack of supporting evidence, many patients have been keen to explore liberation therapy as a potential treatment. However, without randomized controlled trials, almost all Canadian physicians have refused to perform the invasive procedure and some patients have travelled abroad to seek treatment elsewhere.

To address this lack of evidence and support informed treatment decisions by and for people with MS, MSFHR (representing BC), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the MS Society of Canada, and the Provinces of Manitoba and Quebec, jointly funded a $5.4 million study into the theory of chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency (CCSVI) and liberation therapy for MS.

Led by Dr. Anthony Traboulsee at the University of British Columbia, researchers from across Canada performed either venoplasty or a sham procedure (the surgical equivalent of a placebo) on 104 people with MS and narrowing of specific veins draining from the brain or spinal cord. A year later there was no significant difference between the groups in terms of brain imagining or MS symptoms.

“We hope these findings, coming from a carefully controlled, ‘gold standard’ study, will persuade people with MS not to pursue liberation therapy, which is an invasive procedure that carries the risk of complications, as well as significant financial cost,” said Dr. Anthony Traboulsee, a UBC associate professor of neurology and director of the MS Clinic at the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health. “Fortunately, there are a range of drug treatments for MS that have been proven, through rigorous studies, to be safe and effective at slowing the disease progression.”

MS is an autoimmune disease, in which the body’s own defenses attack the protective coating of brain cells or neurons. The degradation of that insulation slows the neurons’ ability to conduct electrical signals, leading to problems with movement, sensation and cognitive function. The causes of the disease remain unknown, though scientists have implicated genetic variations and environmental factors, including a lack of Vitamin D.

Research findings were presented March 8, 2017, at the Society for Interventional Radiology’s annual scientific meeting in Washington, DC. For more information please see the VCHRI news release.