Does hyperbaric therapy offer hope for cerebral palsy?

Research needed

(March 18, 1999, Gazette)

By Sharon Gray

It's heartbreaking for parents of children with cerebral palsy (CP) to hear stories about the value of hyperbaric oxygen therapy, but find themselves unable to get treatment in the province. Some parents have spent thousands of dollars travelling to the U.S. or the United Kingdom for this therapy. But despite their personal conviction that it helps, there is no scientific evidence that children with cerebral palsy do improve after oxygen therapy.

Dr. Ken LeDez, Medicine, wants to help these parents and he's gone public with his concerns. As an anesthesiologist and specialist in hyperbaric and diving medicine, he can't say whether or not the treatment with pure oxygen in pressurized chambers will result in improved mental and physical skills for CP kids. But he wants to find out.

"I'm happy to participate as a leader of a research project," he explained to the Gazette. "Right now there is no documented research on how this therapy can help, and because of that it is not an approved therapy and is not covered by medicare."

Even if he could, Dr. LeDez said he would not want to offer private treatment before proper research is carried out.

"If the research shows there is even a slight improvement then it is worth offering."

Concerned that news articles in community newspapers were fuelling parents' hopes, Dr. LeDez went to the media himself in early March to explain why the therapy isn't offered, and what a research project could accomplish. A group of about 15 parents have talked to him about doing research, and he is now preparing a research proposal with input from pediatricians and parents. At the point when the university's human investigation committee (HIC) approves the proposal, he will then have the go-ahead to conduct the research if funding can be found.

The Centre for Offshore and Remote Medicine (MEDICOR) at the Faculty of Medicine has four linked hyperbaric chambers. Three are used for treating patients with various conditions, including carbon monoxide poisoning. If the air chambers are approved for treating children, special masks are available to accommodate their smaller size.