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Brad Wall, Saskatchewan Premier – Good Politician, Bad Scientist

Posted by Colin Rose on July 28, 2010

A Toilet Money Award to Brad Wall

It was inevitable. Some Canadian politician was bound to give in to the pressure from the true believers in Zamboni’s surreal “CCSVI” and “liberation” treatment for MS and throw hard earned taxpayer dollars at this seductive myth. Wall wants to do trials to treat a condition which exists only in the imagination of Zamboni and his acolytes. No one else has ever been able to show that “CCSVI” even exists. Thankfully, most Canadians (and Americans) have a better appreciation of the scientific method than the Italians, Hungarians, Poles, Bulgarians, Kuwaitis, and Indians. When was the last time a Nobel Prize in any area of science was awarded for work done in those countries?

I’m glad I live in Quebec and won’t have my taxes wasted on charlatanry.


Patrick White

From the Globe and Mail

Published on Tuesday, Jul. 27, 2010 3:27PM EDT

Last updated on Wednesday, Jul. 28, 2010 7:17AM EDT

In a striking departure from his political counterparts across the country, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall says his government will finance clinical trials of liberation therapy, a contentious experimental procedure for multiple sclerosis patients.

“There isn’t unanimity on the issue, I understand that,” Mr. Wall said on Tuesday. “But … the province of Saskatchewan is willing to play a funding role.”

The move shunts Saskatchewan to the forefront of Canadian efforts to introduce a treatment that has researchers, politicians and the MS community divided over the roots of the mysterious nerve-wasting disease and the pace of Canadian medical research.

While Mr. Wall’s comments serve up an uncomfortable nudge to political leaders elsewhere who have largely avoided the emotionally charged debate, it comes as soothing news to those living with the disease.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Lori Lumax, a 44-year-old Regina resident who was diagnosed with MS seven years ago, shortly after her entire left side stopped working. She has regained use of all her limbs, but her co-ordination and eyesight fail her if she becomes fatigued.

“It’s not an easy disease to live with. For us, you’re considered lucky if you can live a long life in a wheel chair. This creates hope we can do better.”

Liberation therapy has been hotly debated among MS patients since Italian doctor Paolo Zamboni published results of a recent study that posits MS as a vascular disorder caused by vein blockages that lead to a buildup of iron in the brain rather than an autoimmune disease.

By opening constricted veins, he reportedly improved the condition of 65 patients.

“All these years, we’ve been getting an electrician to do a plumber’s job,” said Ms. Lumax. “I’m not saying the neurologists are doing anything wrong, but I don’t want to be on my $2,000-a-month medications forever. The angioplasty could be a way to get off the medication.”

The study results gained instant and fervent traction among MS patients worldwide, many of whom directed their enthusiasm into campaigns to have the procedure adopted by government health agencies.

While Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria and several other countries now offer the surgery – attracting several Canadians at roughly $10,000 per angioplasty – health officials insist the research is still too meagre to warrant full-blown clinical trials.

“This procedure has clearly captured the public’s imagination,” said Paul Hébert, editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal and a critical-care physician. “But we have very little data to move forward. If this were anything else, any other procedure, we would say that we simply don’t have enough information to allocate people to this potentially risky procedure.”

And that’s what makes Mr. Wall’s comments unique, a very public declaration that Canada’s snail-paced medical bureaucracy should unleash the purse-strings for a procedure that holds the potential of improving thousands of lives. Research funding has been granted to explore Dr. Zamboni’s theory, but clinical trials would signal a clear acceleration in the normal pace of medical study.

“Yes, there is an unusual element here in that one procedure for one disease is being requested by a Premier,” said Dr. Hébert. “He obviously wants the best for his patients and he can’t go it alone. He is effectively calling on the federal government and the provinces to kick in money. And that to me is great.”

But the optics could trip him up. Fast-tracking a specific avenue of research for a specific disease could give a skewed perception of medical priorities, said Dr. Hébert.

“I applaud Premier Wall because he is saying let’s step up evidence-based care and research in the country,” said Dr. Hébert. “But he must remember that there are countless diseases we need research for. If you open the door here, Mr. Wall, we hope you will promote the need for all clinical research all over the country.”

Saskatchewan has the highest rate of MS in the country, making the issue somewhat personal for the Premier.

“There isn’t anybody who doesn’t have a family member or friend who is battling it,” Mr. Wall said.

Even among MS patients, opinions on the radical technique are split. During recent Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada board elections last month, a voting faction arose with stated aim of closing out candidates who wanted resources increased for research into the Zamboni technique.

Those Canadians who have flown overseas for the procedure admit that, while promising, the angioplasty is not a cure-all.

“I still have patches of numbness, those things won’t go away,” said Duncan Thornton, a Winnipeg resident who travelled to Poland for the surgery in March. “But I have more energy than I’ve had for 20 years. I can play with my kids, I can stand up and do dishes, I can live life like a normal parent.”

39 Responses to “Brad Wall, Saskatchewan Premier – Good Politician, Bad Scientist”

  1. chrishadms said

    Thank God someone from a viable medical establishment in Canada will doing this. This will provide more scientific data. Scientific data is what is needed to decide if something is a farce or not.

    See I know close to a dozen people who do not have any fatigue since they were liberated. It’s been 6 months to a year, some even longer, since they were liberated. The placebo affect is over and they still hold. A few of them have the same neuro here in Denver and he is ecstatic.

    Thank God we have Colin around to save us all this money by being able to look at an idea and tell immediately w/o any science if it is good or not.

    We need a you in the USA to tell us if meds will work w/o a trial. I mean you must save Canada millions of medical dollars a year!

    • Colin Rose said

      “‘Fatigue” is highly subjective and unquantifiable; it cannot be used as an endpoint for deciding the utility of a treatment. For many MS patients, just being labelled as having an incurable neurological disease is enough to cause “fatigue.” When they have been told they are now “liberated” from the diseases the “fatigue” disappears. There is no physiological basis to “CCSVI”; it should be relegated to the dumpster of science.

      • sanjiva86 said

        In your opinion, what would a suitable endpoint be to measure whether it is efficacious and not just a placebo effect?

      • Colin Rose said

        In order to treat a disease one first has to be able to diagnose it. So far Zamboni has not provided a coherent description of a method for diagnosing “CCSVI”. Apparently one has to take a course given by him and use a special Doppler machine sold by a company with which he is associated.

    • moreconcerned said

      The “placebo effect” has been observed in patients with rheumatoid arthritis for upwards of two and a half years. I believe I’ve read that the effect is especially high in MS patients, with people reporting feeling better after just signing up for a study.

  2. beveikrimtas said

    Some of Ms patients really feel better after CCSVI ‘fix’. Placebo effect could contribute to this but not much. Rapid decline of supratentorial pressure brings this change. Full mechanism of action after the intervention on extracranial vein is not a mystery (at least for some), the problem is that people who do this don’t know what they are doing. In this case it became a Russian Roulette, you never know what you get (ok, let’s compare it to the box of chocolate, if you wish, BG).
    Anyway, the CCSVI ‘thing’ will be in play disregard for any so-called ‘support groups’ actions or sober critiques, simply for economic reason – it will bring additional billions in revenues to the field. Longer follow-up will show all ‘perks’ of it (and it will get uglier), most important that this will change the clinical course of MS but unfortunately not in favor of MSers but in favor of group of people who run medical business. People don’t understand that the same people who control Big Pharma control everything else related – hospitals, science, diagnostic machines, etc.

    Well, it is a long story to comment, here are some links to clarify the picture of CCSVI:

  3. Mr. Rose, can you please explain these physical gains made by a women after having the procedure?

    Before –

    After –

    I understand how placebo can affect subjective symptoms such as fatigue, or cognitive disability (mild cases). I can’t understand how physical changes are possible though. Can you please explain this to me?

  4. chiefumtaga said

    In regards to the videos of MS patients on youtube showing pre and post “Liberation” treatment “improvements” we should bear in mind the self-selection bias that patients have done. Remember in the popular press and on pro-Liberation treatment websites it is stated that thousands of patients worldwide have undergone the “Liberation” treatment for CCSVI but the number of MS patients that have posted videos of their changes is a small fraction of that number. Why is that? Is it probable that after having spent 10 to 20 thousand dollars to have the “Liberation” treatment fully expecting to be cured of your MS, then discovering after the treatment there has been no change in your condition that you will post your video of the failure for the world to see? After all how many people come forward to admit they have been duped or conned in any area of there lives? There was one young lady crucialsuz who put up her pre and post treatment videos on youtube (walking in the hallway). One appreciates her candor in putting them up. On her comment she felt there were improvements, but as one person stated they could not see any appreciable difference between the two videos (in my opinion I have to agree). But the true believers would have none of it, they were happy to see her “improvement” and chose to insult the skeptic. On the whole sad but not unexpected.

    • viaferria said

      Just for anyone reading, here are the videos that you mentioned:

      I’d say there was a modest improvement.

      Ironic that one of the patients with the greatest improvements – Linda or ‘mammananny,’ states, with all sincerity, that she wasn’t expecting anything much in the way of improvement. It could be argued that the placebo affect doesn’t go as far as to correct a severe vision impairment that persisted for fifteen years.

  5. moreconcerned said

    My mothers condition is so up and down, some days she can’t even use her electric wheelchair some days she can do that and even other, more difficult things as well. I don’t understand how one would even be able to see a ‘modest improvement’ in her condition.

    • viaferria said

      I am sorry to hear about your mother’s condition. She should try the procedure perhaps. Relatively safe, not so expensive and it has quite amazing anecdotal evidence that says it will help her.

      From what I know of own disease course, and other people with whom I’ve spoken too, your mother’s condition is more variable than most.

      I know that you’re sceptical but we haven’t much to lose and time is of the essence.

    • sanjiva86 said

      Exactly…which is why many of these so-called “improvements” may just represent various points in the natural course of the disease.

  6. chiefumtaga said

    If the video anecdotal testimony of patients having “Liberation Treatment” are to be considered reliable are not these videos just as believable

    where she reports warmth in formerly cold legs and return of flesh color to her legs


    healed from MS grinz2000
    To an unbiased observer all the videos (faith healing or Liberation treatment) show how strong the psyche, or expectation or placebo can produce short term relief.

    • Colin Rose said

      Thanks for pointing out those videos of MS patients being “cured” by faith There is something about the diagnosis of MS that makes some patients particularly prone to suggestion. I would guess that most of those canes, crutches, walkers and wheel chairs left in shrines around the world belonged to MS patients. Zamboni and his acolytes have tapped into this phenomenon with a superficially “scientific” cure instead of faith in Jesus to acquire fame and fortune. They may have even convinced themselves that “liberation” actually has some physical effect so they can rationalize charging $many thousands.

      • I disagree that this is a scam just to make money. If this was all a ploy by Dr. Zamboni “to acquire fame and fortune”, he would have been treating people since this broke word last year and raking in the dollars. Instead, he has not treated anyone since his study, but asked of other medical practioners to research this further.

        Neurologist David Hubbard has a son that was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. He has undergone the venoplasty, and has had significant improvement. This has changed Dr. Hubbards view on CCSVI, and is now an advocate for it. Although since he has started referring patients for scanning and treatment, he has come under fire from other neurologists.

        Here is a graph showing the hemodynamic response, before and after Devin Hubbards procedure, as outlined by Dr. Hubbard, and Dr. Mark Haacke:

      • moreconcerned said

        His foundation is not-for-profit? He’s not making any $$$ at all? He trains other ‘liberators’ for free? He hasn’t commercialized a special ultra-sound that is specifically for CCSVI?

  7. Rebecca Hoover said


    This CCSVI surgery has gotten a bit carried away. Many are flying off to a clinics in Poland and Bulgaria to get this surgery — even getting stents placed in veins.

    You may not be in favor of clinical trials of CCSVI surgery at this time but they may be the only way to convince people on the effectiveness of this surgery. Without clinical trials providing the surgery does not work. many are desperate to believe the surgery does work and will get it no matter what.


    • moreconcerned said

      I can agree with that, but just exactly how many trials do we need? On the other hand, I guess if BNAC’s study doesn’t go so well they might just not release their results like they seemingly did with their diagnostic study (I may be wrong but weren’t the results supposed to be published a long time ago? were they ever?)

  8. viaferria said

    Another study (albeit without a control).

  9. chiefumtaga said

    Thankfully the federal government based on the advice of the Canadian Institute of Health Research has decided to wait for better evidence for CCSVI before pursuing research into it. But CTV’s medical expert ,Dr. Lorne Brandes appears to have blown a head gasket over the decision (see his rantings at the CTV website).

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