A Canadian study that tracked 80 multiple sclerosis patients who underwent the controversial “liberation treatment” outside of the country suggests that about half of them saw their symptoms improve after the procedure.

Researchers in British Columbia surveyed 80 people over the phone one year after they received the controversial treatment, which involves opening up blocked veins to improve blood flow from the brain.

“The picture that seems to be coming out is that about half of the patients feel some improvements in MS symptoms. The degree of improvements ranges from mild to significant,” Dr. Anthony Traboulsee, medical director of the UBC Hospital MS Clinic, told CTV News.

“And about half the patients feel exactly the same as before the procedure or worse.”

About 11 per cent of surveyed patients reported complications around the time they received the liberation treatment. Another 13.8 per cent experienced troubles up to one month afterward.

Pain and bleeding were among the complications experienced. One patient suffered a stroke after the procedure while another one reported symptoms similar to those of a heart attack.

Nine patients had difficulties related to the procedure itself. One reported insufficient anesthetic and said they woke up near the end of the procedure.

Lori Batchelor was among those who found the treatment beneficial. She travelled to a U.S. clinic for the procedure after living with MS for over two decades. Before the treatment, she had difficulty walking and standing.

“I felt very strongly that because my results were so good, I wanted it on record that this is a really important procedure to finally have some sort of treatment available for someone like me who was left to just get worse over the years with absolutely nothing available,” she told CTV News.

Fifty-eight women and 22 men were involved in the study. For the respondents, the average age of MS diagnosis was 39 years of age.

The treatment results relayed in the survey are according to reports from the patients themselves, and are not confirmed by a medical assessment.

Traboulsee said the results of the telephone survey underline the need for a formal study of the treatment’s effect on MS patients.

“We have so many unanswered questions, and no shortage of opinion about this situation and a treatment trial is an efficient way to address those concerns," he said.

That’s why Traboulsee and his team will soon begin recruiting people for a broader study in which 100 MS patients will receive the liberation treatment, similar to angioplasty.

The team has received ethics approvals from institutions in B.C. and Québec for the clinical trial.

The controlled study will monitor MS patients over a two-year period to observe any changes in their symptoms. It is a collaborative effort of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the MS Society of Canada and the provinces of B.C. and Quebec.

The liberation treatment was developed by Italian doctor Paolo Zamboni, who theorized that MS has vascular symptoms. He posited that narrowed veins in the neck cause a condition he termed Chronic Cerebrospinal Venous Insufficiency, or CCSVI.

Zamboni’s findings have been highly controversial and some experts have dismissed his claims.

Several studies currently underway in North America are looking at whether vein abnormalities and MS are linked.

A recent observational study of people in Newfoundland and Labrador who travelled abroad for the treatment found no measurable benefit from liberation treatment.