Winnipeg will be one of four cities participating in a national clinical trial to test the safety and effectiveness of a controversial treatment for multiple sclerosis.
Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced the launch of the new MS study Friday at a federal-provincial meeting of health ministers in Halifax.
Recruiting of participants will begin Nov. 1 in Vancouver and Montreal, the first two cities to receive ethics approval from the research team named in April to undertake the study. Winnipeg and Quebec City are expected to be approved in the next several weeks.
Manitoba Health Minister Theresa Oswald said she was "delighted" Winnipeg will be participating in the trial.
Only 100 patients will take part in the initial phase of the study, likely 25 from each city. Later phases are expected to involve far more participants.
"This was the dream: that we would have a multi-site Canadian clinical trial, that we would do it with our researchers, at home, so that people didn't have to travel," Oswald said Friday.
Dr. Anthony Traboulsee, medical director of UBC Hospital's MS Clinic in Vancouver, will lead the $6-million study, which will determine whether improving blood flow in neck veins is an effective treatment for MS.
The so-called liberation therapy was pioneered by Italian researcher Dr. Paolo Zamboni in 2008. He coined the term CCSVI (chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency) to describe the problem with blood flow in neck veins. He believed it played a role in causing MS.
Liberation therapy involves inserting stents in certain veins to improve blood flow. It is unavailable in this country, but many Canadians have travelled abroad to receive it.
Many patients -- but by no means all -- reported their symptoms improved following the treatment, fuelling insistent calls from many MS patients and their advocates to allow doctors to perform the procedure in Canada.
But with several deaths and complications attributed to the surgery, and studies around the world showing mixed results at best, an expert medical panel advised Ottawa to first mount a clinical trial to test Zamboni's theory.
On Thursday, the Manitoba Health Research Council revealed it had received only one proposal for a Manitoba-based MS trial -- and the applicant failed to meet safety and ethical criteria.
The same day, Oswald said MS sufferers shouldn't despair and Manitoba could soon be part of a national study.
On Friday, the minister said she couldn't risk letting the cat out of the bag a day early.
"I felt good about it (the go-ahead for a national study), but honest -- these are pretty high-stakes talks," she said.
Dr. Michael Shannon, chairman of the scientific advisory board of the CCSVI Coalition, a patient group pushing to have the treatment performed in Canada, welcomed the announcement, calling the study "long overdue."
-- with files from The Canadian Press