The first-year progress reports from seven multi-disciplinary teams investigating CCSVI (chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency) in MS indicate that they are on track to provide essential data and critical analysis as these two-year projects move toward their completion. These studies were launched on July 1, 2010 with a more than $ 2.4 million commitment from the MS Society of Canada and the National MS Society (USA).
The research teams have already recruited a broad spectrum of people with MS and others to build understanding of who may be affected by CCSVI. In addition they are refining CCSVI imaging methods for accuracy and consistency in order to reliably validate the occurrence of CCSVI and understand its implications in the MS disease process.
Representatives of each of the seven funded teams are part of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)’s Scientific Expert Working Group. Following a meeting of the working group in June 2011, the Canadian Federal Minister of Health, the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, announced a Phase I/II interventional clinical trial on CCSVI. The working group will provide leadership and advice in the drafting of the terms of reference for the Phase I/II clinical trials in Canada, and will continue to monitor and analyze the data from the seven studies and other studies related to CCSVI and MS around the world.
Regarding the seven funded teams, all have received approval for their studies from the required Institutional Review Boards in the U.S. or the Research Ethics Board in Canada, a first step established by regulatory authorities to protect human subjects involved in research projects. (Read more about steps involved in conducting clinical research.)
Already more than 486 people have undergone scanning with various imaging technologies being used by the studies, including the Doppler ultrasound technology originally used by Dr. Paolo Zamboni and his collaborators, as well as magnetic resonance studies of the veins (MR venography), catheter venography, MRI scans of the brain, and clinical measures.
Because the studies employ rigorous blinding and controls designed to collect objective and comprehensive data, the full results of the ongoing research will be available only after completion of the studies which will involve more than 1300 people representing a spectrum of MS types, severities and durations, as well as individuals with other disease types and healthy controls. In the meantime, several teams are planning to present preliminary results at medical meetings later this year.
“We are pleased that this important work investigating the link between CCSVI and MS is advancing quickly,” notes Dr. Tim Coetzee, chief research officer at the National MS Society. “Results from these comprehensive studies will help inform important next steps.”
Yves Savoie, President and chief executive officer of the MS Society of Canada concurs, “The CIHR’s Scientific Expert Working Group, who will provide leadership and advice in the drafting of the terms of reference for the Phase I/II clinical trials in Canada, will continue to monitor and analyze the data from these studies and other studies related to CCSVI and MS around the world. We are heartened to be moving closer to more definitive answers about CCSVI and MS.”
Details: The funded investigators, who are drawn from a broad range of disciplines ranging from MS neurology, vascular surgery and interventional radiology, report progress in establishing standardized protocols, recruiting and scanning participants and in the development of plans for sharing their findings, as summarized below.
• Dr. Brenda Banwell, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Ontario:
To determine whether signs of impaired vein drainage might be present early in the MS disease course, Dr. Banwell’s team received approval from the Research Ethics Board and then began enrolling children and teenagers who have MS, and healthy controls of the same age. They are seeking venous abnormalities using non-invasive MRI measures of vein anatomy and novel measures of venous flow, as well as ultrasound. Unlike adults with MS, children are unlikely to have age-related changes in blood vessels, and are less likely to have adult health conditions such as high blood pressure or heart disease, which might otherwise complicate findings. The team’s ultrasound team received training in Dr. Zamboni’s original techniques from the Buffalo Neuroimaging Analysis Center, and they have created ultrasound and brain imaging procedures suited to explore venous drainage in children. Dr. Banwell’s team reports that recruitment is going well, and that they plan to analyze findings only after all 90 participants have undergoing the testing. Read details of Dr. Banwell’s original study plans.
• Dr. Fiona Costello, Hotchkiss Brain Institute, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta:
Once her team received Research Ethics Board approval, they began recruiting a cross-section of people with MS who would be compared with those affected by other neurological diseases or healthy volunteers. They have three dedicated ultrasound technologists who have been trained to do scanning as originally done by Dr. Zamboni, and they have refined their scanning protocol. The team is planning to repeat scans on a subset of participants who had been scanned before they made method changes, which will allow them to compare the sensitivity of results pre- and post-training. Dr. Costello’s team slowed recruitment briefly to upgrade to a new 3 Tesla (3T) MRI scanner (twice as strong as standard clinical MRI), and they have expanded their MRI team to include two additional, experienced members. The 3T machine went online in March 2011 and it is now being used to perform MR venography scans to compare against the ultrasound tests. Read details of this team’s original study plans.
• Dr. Aaron Field, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison:
His team is now actively recruiting participants to undergo MR venography and ultrasound techniques originally used by Dr. Zamboni to investigate CCSVI in people with early and later stages of MS, controls with other conditions and healthy volunteers, now that they have received approval of the study from the Institutional Review Board. Their ultrasound expert has received training in the Zamboni techniques. The team has refined its MR venography protocol to account for variations in blood flow that occur with breathing and heartbeats. They have determined that they will use a relatively new contrast agent or dye that will permit high-quality images of the veins in the head and neck and for measuring blood flow in the brain. This will enable the entire MRI/MRV exam to be completed with one time-saving injection instead of two. They have also standardized locations along the length of veins where they take blood flow measurements because they have found large differences in both anatomy and size of head and neck veins. The team has submitted a meeting abstract reporting on their protocol development for consideration at the International Magnetic Resonance Angiography Workshop to be held September 25-28, 2011 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Read details of this team’s original study plans.
• Dr. Robert Fox, Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Cleveland:
After his team received IRB approval for using MR venography, ultrasound, MRI and clinical measures in people with MS or who are at risk for MS (CIS) and comparison groups, they began recruiting and scanning participants. The ultrasound team, which underwent training in the technique originally used by Dr. Zamboni, found several aspects of the published methodology ambiguous, and they have standardized the protocol and analysis to achieve consistent results.
They shared their solutions to these methodological challenges in a poster presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting in April 2011 (Abstract P01.263). The poster outlined physiological and technical factors that can complicate screening for vein blockages using ultrasound, including that heartbeat irregularities, stages of breathing, head position and pressure applied by the operator could alter results; and that the state of hydration of the subject (whether they drank adequate amounts of fluids) could impact results of several of the criteria used to determine CCSVI. They concluded that these complications may help explain the mixed results reported thus far related to CCSVI and MS, and they have added to their aims a study designed to evaluate the impact of hydration on CCSVI assessments.
Dr. Fox’s team has also gathered autopsy specimens of venous tissue from 9 MS tissue donors and 6 donors who did not have MS. The team first had to develop and standardize techniques for studying these specimens for signs of CCSVI. They are analyzing their data and have submitted abstracts reporting preliminary findings related to this pathology study and their scanning results for consideration at the international ECTRIMS (European Committee for Treatment and Research in MS) meeting in October 2011. Read details of this team’s original study plans.
• Dr. Carlos Torres, The Ottawa Hospital, University of Ottawa, Ontario:
His team obtained Research Ethics Board approval after negotiating details over elements of the informed consent form used to explain the study’s procedures and potential outcomes to participants. The team has been conducting the first phase of scanning, using MRI and MR venography, in people without MS, which will be used to compare with various scans in people with MS. Three team members have been trained using the ultrasound techniques originally used by Dr. Zamboni, and they are on track recruiting more participants for the study. Dr. Torres expects to finalize phase 1 of the study by the end of the summer and then will move on to phase 2, which involves people with MS and other controls. Read details of this team’s original study plans.
• Dr. Anthony Traboulsee, UBC Hospital MS Clinic, UBC Faculty of Medicine and Dr. Katherine Knox, Saskatoon MS Clinic, University of Saskatchewan:
After both sites received Research Ethics Board approval they began to recruit, they have scanned a significant number of participants, and the level of interest in the MS community remains high. Their ultrasound technologists were trained by Dr. Zamboni, and they are also using catheter venography and MR venography to investigate the prevalence of CCSVI in people with MS and controls without MS. After the radiologists at both sites met in February 2011 to ensure the consistency of their protocols, they did a second wave of recruitment and hope to finish all testing before the end of 2011. Read details of their original study plans.
• Dr. Jerry Wolinsky, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston: After receiving IRB approval, the team began recruiting participants, and their neurosonographer received intensive training for intracranial and extracranial ultrasound scanning techniques. The team has already scanned a significant number of participants, which include people with different types of MS, people with other conditions, and people with no known health problems. The team is testing whether other imaging methods can confirm the ultrasound findings, while identifying the most reliable technique to screen for CCSVI. Dr. Wolinsky’s team continues to encounter difficulty in recruiting non-MS control subjects who don’t have a personal interest in the purpose of the trial. The executive committee that oversees this study has agreed with the team’s plan to continue aggressively recruit other controls, while at the same time increasing the number of MS participants. In some cases they have also found that some participants who were contacted to go into the next phase of scanning informed the investigators that they had gotten the venoplasty procedure, which made them ineligible to continue in the study. Read details of this team’s original study plans.
Going Forward: These seven teams were chosen by an international panel of experts that included specialists drawn from all key relevant disciplines including radiology, vascular surgery and neurology. The projects were selected for having the greatest potential to quickly and comprehensively determine the significance of CCSVI in the MS disease process. (Read more)
At this one-year milepost the investigators are making significant progress on their overall two-year study goals. The teams are making plans for sharing preliminary results at upcoming medical meetings, and have demonstrated a clear willingness to share technical advice so that the projects can move forward as smoothly and quickly as possible. Their results will help guide the development of a phase I/II clinical trial recently announced by the Canadian Federal Minister of Health to test whether treating vein blockages may be safe and effective in treating people with MS.
The next update on the work of the seven grantees will be reported in six months.
By MS Society