A group of researchers in Italy is proposing a revolutionary new theory about Multiple Sclerosis. They’ve offered some compelling evidence that MS is primarily a vascular disease, and that the neurologic damage seen in MS patients has its genesis in blood flow problems within the veins of those patients. They're calling this theory Chronic Cerebrospinal Venous Insufficiency, or CCSVI for short.
The Italian researchers, led by Dr. Paolo Zamboni, imaged the veins leading from the brain and spinal cord of several hundred MS patients, and found that virtually all of them showed evidence of a narrowing or blockage of these vital vascular pathways. Specifically, they found blockages or stenosis in the jugular and/or azygos veins of the MS patients they studied, findings not seen in healthy control subjects or in patients with other vascular or neurolgic conditions.
These researchers theorize that these blockages constrict the flow of blood leaving the central nervous system, causing a reflux of blood back into the brain and/or spine. This reflux leads to edema and inflammation, which in turn leads to an immune response, which then leads to the lesions that are the hallmark of Multiple Sclerosis.
A group of patients who congregate online at ThisisMS.com have become convinced that there is significant merit to this theory. Here is a link to a thread on that site which contains all of the research behind the CCSVI theory, and discussions pertinent to it. One of these patients managed to contact a highly respected vascular doctor at Stanford University, Dr. Michael Dake,. who looked over the research materials and agreed that there might indeed be something to this radical approach.
Dr. Dake and his colleagues have themselves begun imaging the vascular systems of MS patients, and have found results similar to those of the Italian researchers. The Stanford group has gone so far as to start surgically clearing the blocked veins of MS patients, by placing stents at the sites of the blockages.
The researchers in Italy have also been clearing the blockages that they've found, and plan on holding a news conference announcing their findings and results sometime early this summer.
Needless to say, this theory, and the data behind it, flies in the face of accepted scientific thought about Multiple Sclerosis. I'm not entirely convinced that this hypothesis explains all the complexities and wide range of disease presentations seen in MS patients, but the evidence certainly seems compelling enough to warrant further serious investigation.
Personally, I've never quite bought into the "autoimmune" theory of the disease, and I would welcome the paradigm shift that these new ideas might bring about. It's time for mainstream researchers to start looking beyond accepted MS dogma, which thus far has brought us treatments that are only partially effective, and often highly toxic. Surely, there must be a better approach to treating MS than suppressing the intricately complex human immune system.
There is precedent to this kind of radical shift in ideas about a disease. For decades, gastric ulcers with thought to be caused by diet and stress, until researchers discovered that they are actually caused by a bacteria that can be treated quite successfully with antibiotics. Poking at theories that have been accepted as fact can sometimes lead to startling results.
Update 11/21/09! Canadian television has done a video news report on CCSVI. Click here for the link.