Sask. doesn't plan to wait for national trials
By Hannah Scissons, Saskatchewan News Network; Postmedia News August 18, 2010 It's great news that Manitoba is calling for nationwide clinical trials of a controversial treatment for multiple sclerosis, says Saskatchewan's health minister, but the province isn't going to wait for consensus before funding its own trials.
Don McMorris was among the provincial and federal health ministers who received a letter this week from Manitoba's health minister, Theresa Oswald, seeking support for a "pan-Canadian randomized clinical trial of the efficacy of the so-called liberation procedure."
"It's an interesting request and we're not opposed to it," said McMorris. "But ... I do know that by the time we get 10 provinces, three territories and a federal government all on the same page on this, as far as extent, cost, that is going to take quite a while --- whereas we can lead here in Saskatchewan."
Premier Brad Wall announced last month the province was willing to fund clinical trials of the treatment, based on a theory of Italian Dr. Paolo Zamboni that MS is related to narrowed or blocked veins in the neck. His theory has not yet been scientifically proven so the related treatment -- a balloon angioplasty to widen the veins -- isn't available in Canada.
That has prompted an unknown number of MS patients, including dozens from Saskatchewan, to travel to countries such as Bulgaria and Poland for the procedure.
Saskatchewan has the highest rate of MS in Canada; about 3,500 residents suffer from MS, a chronic, debilitating disease with no known cure.
Manitoba's letter is the first indication of support from another province for Saskatchewan's stance on the controversial procedure. Oswald told the Winnipeg Free Press she had decided to call for the national clinical trials after discussions with researchers, physicians and patients.
"We need to talk about working together on how to do this instead of wasting time on a whole bunch of small studies," Oswald said.
But McMorris said time is of the essence.
"Now, if the minister from Manitoba can change the mind of all those other governments, so we have pan-Canadian (trials), we'll be with that, absolutely," he said. "But in the meantime, we are moving forward with the leadership role that we've taken."
McMorris said Saskatchewan is looking forward to research proposals for clinical trials of the liberation procedure. A number of research projects -- including two in Saskatoon -- are currently looking at the association between narrowed veins and MS, but those studies do not involve the actual procedure.
The previously announced studies are being conducted at the MS Clinic in Saskatoon by Dr. Katherine Knox. One has received approval from the University of Saskatchewan biomedical research ethics board and is enrolling people with early symptoms of possible MS, to study whether they have the narrowed or blocked veins. The second is a joint study with the University of British Columbia that is still in the process of receiving approval. It will test for the vein blockages in people with MS and one of their family members known to be at high risk.
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