01/27/2012 05:45 EST | Updated 03/28/2012 05:12 EDT

Research teams making progress collecting critical data on CCSVI: MS society

TORONTO - Research teams investigating a potential and hotly debated cause of MS say they are making good progress toward providing essential data that will help to design a clinical trial of a proposed treatment for the disease.

The seven Canadian and U.S. teams were given $2.4 million in July 2010 to probe the connection between multiple sclerosis and a condition called chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency, or CCSVI, put forth as a possible cause of MS by Italian vascular surgeon Dr. Paolo Zamboni.

Zamboni has theorized that MS could be caused by narrowed neck veins, which he suggests cause a backup of blood in the brain, leading to iron deposits that destroy brain cells and set off the cascade of nerve damage characteristic of MS.

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system, which interrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and body. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. An estimated 55,000 to 75,000 Canadians have the disease.

“The research underway is significantly advancing our understanding of CCSVI and what its relationship might be to the MS disease process,” Dr. Tim Coetzee, chief research officer at the U.S. National MS Society, said Friday in a release.

The research groups have recruited and performed neck-vein scanning of a broad spectrum of people both with and without MS to see who may be affected by CCSVI. They are also refining imaging methods to reliably verify the occurrence of CCSVI and to understand its role in disease progression, the U.S. society said.

More than 800 people have been scanned with various imaging technologies being used in the studies, including the Doppler ultrasound technique used by Zamboni and his collaborators, and various types of MRI techniques.

The combined results of the research projects will be used in the design of an early-phase clinical trial in Canada to test the ability of balloon venoplasty — which opens up narrowed neck veins — to improve blood drainage in MS patients found to have CCSVI. That trial should launch in late spring.

Several of the teams have presented, or are planning to present, preliminary results at medical meetings. But the complete results will be available only after completion of all the studies, which will involve more than 1,300 people representing a spectrum of forms of MS, as well as individuals with other neurological diseases and healthy controls.

The U.S. National MS Society, which is jointly funding the research projects with the MS Society of Canada, said Friday the next update on the seven studies will be reported in six months.