Last week, I published a post on my thoughts regarding the current state of CCSVI research and treatment (click here). The post elicited much response, and many well thought out comments were left by readers who both agreed and disagreed with my points of view. As I've stated before, I welcome all readers to post their opinions, as a healthy exchange of ideas is the only way to draw informed conclusions, especially on subjects as new and controversial as CCSVI.
After reading and considering many of the responses arguing that research into whether or not venous blockages correlate with MS, and, if so, whether these abnormalities are cause or effect, were basically a waste of time and that treatment studies should take the forefront, I've changed my original point of view. While I still do think that academic research into the venous abnormalities we've come to call CCSVI is important, I now believe that treatment studies should be given the highest priority possible.
I've come to this conclusion for a variety of reasons. First, treatment studies themselves will show whether or not CCSVI abnormalities are indeed related to MS, and if they play a role in causing or exacerbating the disease. If, under rigorous trial conditions which include pre-and post-procedure neurologic evaluations, patients are found to respond favorably to the liberation procedure, then obviously CCSVI is not only related to MS, but plays an important role in the disease process. If patients fail to respond, then the opposite conclusions can be drawn.
Second, the noninvasive imaging techniques used to detect CCSVI have been shown to be less than reliable, and catheter venography has thus far proven to be the gold standard in finding blockages in the veins associated with the central nervous system. Based on the accounts of both the physicians who have performed the procedures, and patients themselves, Doppler sonography, MRV's, and CT venograms have all been shown to be prone to both false positives and false negatives when compared to the findings of catheter procedures, for a variety of reasons (technological limitations, operator deficiencies, etc.). Thus, any studies based strictly on noninvasive imaging will always have a cloud of doubt hovering over them. Better to cut to the chase, and perform catheter venography on test subjects. If that venography detects abnormalities, these abnormalities should be addressed by balloon angioplasty, which has been shown to be an extremely safe procedure when done by experienced physicians. Again, whether or not patients respond to angioplasty would answer questions of correlation and causation.
Third, if CCSVI does indeed prove to be a major piece of the MS puzzle, we need to refine the techniques and technology of the liberation procedure. Currently, many patients experience improvements soon after undergoing the procedure, only to see those improvements dissipate when their newly opened veins close up again. This phenomenon itself would suggest that CCSVI at least plays a role in the MS disease process, and also indicates that much learning needs to be done about the best practices, procedures, and equipment to be used when undertaking the liberation procedure. Virtually all of the medical equipment currently used in the treatment of CCSVI was developed primarily for use in arteries, which are vastly different in an anatomical sense to veins. Vein specific equipment, especially stents, needs to be developed if the liberation procedure does prove to be a major player in the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis.
Several other concerns have recently come to my attention. It seems to be becoming clearer that CCSVI is likely not just confined to the jugular and azygous veins, as has been thus far thought; the picture appears to be more complex. Dr. Zamboni has recently suggested that abnormalities in the lumbar veins could very well play a major role in progressive illness, and many venograms are finding abnormalities in the vertebral veins as well. The vertebrals are the vessels that return blood to the heart and lungs from the brain when patients are in an upright position. The jugulars take over this function when patients are lying flat. Thus, problems in the vertebrals could theoretically play just as important a role as jugular abnormalities. In my particular case, the catheter venogram done during my unsuccessful liberation procedure turned up blockages not only in my right internal jugular, but also abnormalities in my vertebral veins as well. Unfortunately, there is currently no accepted method for addressing stenosis in either the vertebral or lumbar vessels. Clearly, research into these concerns is necessary.
We must see collaboration between neurologists and vascular specialists if the myriad questions surrounding CCSVI are to be answered in any definitive fashion. I'm aware of several treatment studies that are currently awaiting approval, and of several doctors who are chomping on the bit waiting to get started conducting these trials. They'll have no problem finding patients willing to participate in these studies, but funding may be a dilemma. The MS patient population must get behind the studies, not only in body and spirit, but with their wallets too. When these studies are finally approved and announced, CCSVI advocates the world over, and those who love them, will need to step up to the plate and donate either directly to the institutions conducting the studies, or to nonprofit CCSVI advocacy groups that are currently readying to launch. Patient advocacy has pushed CCSVI out of the shadows and into the spotlight that currently shines on it, and that same advocacy will likely be necessary to take CCSVI from hypothesis to either positive or negative conclusion.
The CCSVI studies recently approved by the MS Societies of the United States and Canada will provide valuable data in assessing many of the questions that CCSVI theory has posed. I'm particularly intrigued by the study that will look at sets of twins in which one has has developed MS but the other has not. In fact, all of the approved studies will add greatly to the CCSVI knowledge base. But for a patient population desperate for answers, suffering with a disease in which time itself is an enemy, answering academic questions simply isn't enough. We must find out, as quickly and definitively as possible, whether or not the liberation procedure is as beneficial to some MS patients as anecdotal reports make it appear to be. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and for many MS patients, myself included, these are indeed desperate times...