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About Research


F.A.Q. About Society- Funded MS Research
Introduction | Funding | Decisions/Oversight | Programs | Focus | Philosophies
Intriguing Leads | Progressive MS | Discoveries We’ve Made | Progress

What Discoveries Have Resulted From Society Funding?

As the largest private sponsor of MS research in the world, the National MS Society has facilitated many of the significant discoveries that shape our understanding of MS today. These include:


        Steroids can speed recovery from MS attacks

        First animal studies of Copaxone, Novantrone and Tysabri

        First major trial of any form of interferon

        Exercise can improve fatigue

        T cells & B cells are players in the immune attack in MS

        Myelin repair occurs naturally in some brain lesions

        Nerve fibers are damaged, even early in disease course

        Adult brains store cells ready to replace damaged myelin

        Sex hormones, peptides, growth factors, combinations of approved drugs hold promise

        Immune cells against myelin can also react to viruses and bacteria: clue to MS trigger?

        Improved/speedier diagnosis

        Recognition of sex differences in MS

        Cognition, depression, fatigue are major MS symptoms.


How Does the Society Stimulate MS Research?

From the beginning, the National MS Society has funded research seeking clues to the cause, treatment and cure of MS, and to spark research efforts around the world:


Increasing Federal Research Spending: In 1950 the National MS Society successfully convinced the U.S. Congress to create a new national institute devoted to neurological and related diseases. What is now the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke was born, becoming partners with the Society in supporting basic and clinical research into MS.


Worldwide Network: In 1967, Society founder Sylvia Lawry established what is now the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation, a worldwide association of nearly 40 organizations devoted to carrying on important MS research and services. In 2000, the Society committed substantial support to MSIF’s Sylvia Lawry Centre. One goal of the Centre is to collect and analyze data from major natural history studies and clinical trials of treatments for MS to create “virtual” placebo groups statistical portraits that researchers could use to more quickly evaluate new MS therapies.


Other projects of international scope are The MS Lesion Project, involving collaborators in the U.S., Austria and Germany who are studying damaged areas in MS brain tissue for clues to what may be different causes of MS, and the Nervous System Repair and Protection initiative involving four international teams of investigators.


Attracting Top Minds: To attract promising young investigators to the field of MS, in 1955 the Society developed a postdoctoral research training program. This program has trained many of the country’s leading MS investigators, and ensures that top-notch minds will always be focused on the problems of MS until a cure is found.


Seed Money: The National MS Society often plants research “seeds” from which great things grow. Long before pharmaceutical companies became interested, the Society was supporting clinical trials of drugs to treat MS. For example, one of the earliest grants the Society gave, in 1950, was to conduct preliminary tests of the steroid ACTH in MS. This drug proved (with Society funding) to be the first to speed recovery from MS exacerbations. We also support basic research and early, preclinical and clinical tests that can lead to the development of new therapies.


Cross-Fertilization: MS involves diverse fields: basic and clinical immunology, neurophysiology, virology, genetics, rehabilitation, and many others. To foster cross-fertilization of ideas among researchers from different realms, the Society supports scientific workshops on relevant topics.


Over the years, many of these workshops have been springboards for crucial leaps forward in our approach to MS. For example, a workshop held in Nice, France in 2002 led directly to the Society’s $15.6 million initiative to support collaborative teams searching for ways to protect and repair the nervous system in MS.


In 2002, the Society launched a Collaborative MS Research Center program to further stimulate interaction of researchers from diverse fields and to attract new scientists to MS research.


Harvesting New Ideas: Since 1987, the Society has used special pilot research grants to cultivate novel or high-risk research ideas and attract new investigators to the field of MS. These low-cost, short-term awards allow quick determinations as to whether a new idea merits full-scale exploration.