N.L. study suggests ‘liberation’ treatment doesn’t work

James McLeod
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Despite some patients reporting good results, doctor does not recommend procedure

Susan Sullivan, the province’s minister of health and community services listens as Dr. William Pryse-Phillips, emeritus professor of medicine (neurology) at MUN and lead researcher of the multiple sclerosis observational study, speaks to reporters at the Confederation Building media centre Thursday. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

Dr. William Pryse-Phillips said he was unsure about the controversial “liberation” treatment for multiple sclerosis (MS). After a one-year observational study, he’s not unsure anymore.

It doesn’t work, Pryse-Phillips told reporters Tuesday.

“I cannot recommend this therapy on the basis of these results,” Pryse-Phillips said. “I know there have been people who have had this procedure and have felt wonderful about it, and I cannot explain it. In our study, we had no such people.”

In 2009, Italian researcher Paolo Zamboni published research that suggested multiple sclerosis was caused by the narrowing of veins in the neck. By performing surgery on those veins, Zamboni said, MS patients could be treated.

The treatment is not offered as part of publicly funded health care in Canada, but MS patients have been travelling overseas to get the surgery done.

In 2010, the provincial government announced $400,000 for an observational study to assess the results, looking at people from this province who travelled for the procedure.

Health Minister Susan Sullivan bluntly stated they couldn’t find any evidence it worked.

“I can report that in the 30 subjects who underwent the procedure, no measurable, objective benefit was recordable one year after the procedure,” she said.

The study done by Pryse-Phillips did find there were subjective psychological and physical benefits, but he described those as “meagre” compared to the costs and the risks.

“There have been deaths from the procedure — not many, but deaths,” he said.

Sullivan said she had hoped for a better result, but she still considers the money well spent, as it contributes to the body of scientific research.

“We’re disappointed; we certainly had hoped for something better for the patients of Newfoundland and Labrador and worldwide,” she said. “That was how we approached this; we were hopeful.”

Mark Lane paid $4,000 to get the procedure done in Poland, plus the cost of travel to get there. He was at the news conference Thursday afternoon, and he told reporters that he doesn’t regret spending the money.

“I did it as a preventative measure as opposed to reactionary, and I’m quite happy with the results I’ve had,” he said. “I haven’t regressed; I haven’t deteriorated in two years.”

In fact, he said, if he has any symptoms in the future, he’ll get the procedure done again.

“If I start to regress, I’m getting on a plane tomorrow,” he said.

But Pryse-Phillips said he actually believes some of what he saw in the blind observational study actually directly refutes Zamboni’s theory.

In 25 per cent of the patients he examined, as a complication of the surgery on neck veins, clots actually closed the veins off. The closed off veins didn’t make the MS symptoms any worse for the patients Pryse-Phillips looked at.

“Prof. Zamboni would suggest that there should have been worsening of a patient’s clinical state as a result of increased of veins,” Pryse-Phillips said. “Comparing those who did and those who did not have any blockage, I repeat: we found no differences on any parameter examined at any time point.”


Twitter: TelegramJames

Geographic location: Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador, Poland

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Recent comments

  • Just asking
    June 15, 2012 - 13:46

    Has anyone considered that the patients who have had improvement from this procedure may actually have been MISDIAGNOSED with MS in the first place?

  • Angela Nielsen
    June 11, 2012 - 16:39

    Why on earth would the government or any neuros want to admit that here is any thing positive about the Liberation treatment when that could affect the bottom line of Big Pharma who is the cash cow of these folks. I mean just think about it in view of this: Thirty years ago, Henry Gadsden, the head of Merck, one of the world's largest drug companies, told Fortune magazine he wanted Merck to be more like gum maker Wrigley's. It had long been his dream, he said, to make drugs for healthy people - so that Merck could "sell to everyone." Gadsden's dream now drives the marketing machinery of the most profitable industry on earth. Selling Sickness reveals how widening boundaries of illness & lowering the threshold for treatments is creating millions of new patients and billions in new profits, in turn threatening to bankrupt health-care systems all over the world. As more and more of ordinary life becomes medicalized, the industry moves ever closer to Gadsden's dream: "selling to everyone"

  • Tim Jamison
    June 11, 2012 - 11:32

    Liberation therapy does work. I've personnally witnessed it. The hospitals and pharmaceutical companies (who are financially interlinked by various deals, sponsorships, and donations) have been bucking this therapy from day one for one simple reason: they need customers and liberation therapy makes their customers go away.

  • Chuck Newhard
    June 08, 2012 - 14:34

    This so-called study by Pryse-Phillips which was only 30 people of which he studied only 25% of that number making it approx. 7 people, which means to me that it is impossible to get true results with such a small number of subjects, HOW PHONY. I know two people personally that have had this procedure and both have eliminated their canes and walkers, for over a year now. Also, keep in mind that approx. 20,000 procedures have now been performed around the world with what i understand to be about a 73 to 85% success rate. Seems to me that only the big pharmas and many neuroligist are really fighting this basic simple procedure which is merely Angioplasty which has been done for 30 years.

  • Dermis Probe
    June 08, 2012 - 12:51

    "...The study done by Pryse-Phillips did find there were subjective psychological and physical benefits, but he described those as “meagre” compared to the costs and the risks..." In dismissing these benefits he sounds more like a spin doctor than a medical doctor. I'm sure the drug companies were very pleased with his MEAGRE findings. Another poster referred to her mother's experience in NY: Surely MS patients have the right to know if they have narrowing or blockage before they travel. A doppler ultrasound???

  • David
    June 08, 2012 - 11:05

    The people in charge of a bankrupt, unwieldy health care system find that an additional treatment, one that would put even more burden on an already-bankrupt sityation, is clinically ineffective. Sure, that sounds like a perfectly transparent and objective conclusion.

  • saelcove
    June 08, 2012 - 10:34

    Newfoundland study enough said, ignore it

  • B.C. Deans
    June 08, 2012 - 09:30

    Jack: What an asinine comment. Firstly, there are no pharmaceuticals involved in this procedure, other than the anaesthetic needed to perform the procedure. Why on earth would they try to skew the results? It would be a heckuva lot cheaper to be able to fix MS with 'liberation' therapy than it costs to try to help by other means. What the heck does a psychologist know about motor skill development? Psychology involves behaviour. How on earth could an occupational therapist have the expertise in motor skill development? Neither of those disciplines are medical specialists. Methinks you're talking through your hat - certainly not from any knowledge. Maybe you could support your comment with evidence-based facts.

    • Jack
      June 08, 2012 - 11:50

      BC Deans, Psychologists don't use specialize in behavioural studies, they also specialize in cognitive ability and motor skill analysis, both related to Multiple Sclerosis. In addition, since Occupational Therapy involves maintaining daily living and working skills, Occupational Therapists are better trained and equipped to analyze and correct motor skill and independent living skill deficits associated with Multiple Sclerosis that a Neurosurgeon. That's why Psychologist(s) and/or Occupational Therapist(s) should study the benefits of the Zamboni or liberation therapy method than a Neurosurgeon. Therefore, I'm not the one that asinine.

  • Jack
    June 08, 2012 - 08:09

    Because MS patients receiving the liberation or Zamboni treatments have reported substantial improvements, including one sufferer regaining his/her ability to walk, I'm starting to believe that this study was flawed and rigged, and MS Sufferers wanting a better life in Newfoundland and Labrador will pay the price for Sullivan and Pryse-Phillips' incompetence. Due to these flawed and rigged studies, the Newfoundland and Labrador Government should do it over again, but with strings attached. These strings include believing the patients more than doctors, use a Psychologist or Occupational Therapist to conduct this study as they have more expertise in motor skill development than a Neurologist, and no pharmaceutical industry interference.

    • RL
      June 08, 2012 - 09:42

      my mother has classic, text book MS since her early twenties. she went to NY last year for this liberation procedure expecting it to cure her. what they found was nothing. no narrowed veins, no anything to suggest this has anything to do with the cause of MS. she is bitterly disappointed because she thought this was the answer. it was not, and is not for so many others. this procedure is not the miracle cure people are trying to make it out to be. MS mimics so many other illnesses- for those that liberation has worked for - you have to wonder if the diagnosis of MS in the first place was even correct.

    • Jack
      June 08, 2012 - 11:54

      RL, like any surgical procedure, liberation therapy is not always going to work. Take for example, Al Waxman, famous Canadian actor and comedian well known for "King of Kensington". He underwent Heart Surgery, but immediate died from it. Lessons learned from the Al Waxman case is that surgical procedures are always going to have failure rates despite advances in Medicine.