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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 are the Society’s Research Philosophies?


Fund the best, most relevant research: Our peer reviewers rate projects for excellence and relevance to MS, and we do not fund projects that are deemed to have no relevance to the problems of MS.

Focus on any topic relevant to MS: These range from the most basic question about how myelin-making cells read signals to clinical trials of promising treatments.

Fund investigator-initiated and Society-targeted research: We invite scientists to come to us with their new ideas, and we also proactively target areas that are ripe for exploration.

Centralized peer review: This helps us avoid geographic and political biases, and helps us identify the best research projects in which to invest our money.

Seek out new ideas: Our high-risk pilot program gives investigators access to quick funding to test out untried ideas. The Society also convenes task forces to develop the best research strategies to move the field forward.

Foster collaboration and interdisciplinary approaches: We offer funding, such as the Collaborative MS Research Center Awards, tailored to foster cross-pollination and bring in new researchers whose expertise is relevant to MS. We also support workshops that cross disease boundaries.



Why Does the Society Support Research on All Types of Human Cells?

MS is considered an autoimmune disease where the body attacks itself resulting in damage to the nervous system. MS can cause paralysis, blindness, cognitive dysfunction, mobility impairment and many other serious symptoms. To find new ways to prevent, slow or repair the devastating effects of MS, the National MS Society supports the conduct of scientifically meritorious medical research, including research using human cells, in accordance with federal, state and local laws and with adherence to the strictest ethical and procedural guidelines.


The Society supports public policy that it believes is consistent with this position, and opposes public policy that it believes is not consistent with this position.



Why Does the Society Fund Animal Research?

We are dedicated to finding the cure for MS. This means supporting basic research and clinical trials to test promising treatments. While about 45% of all funded research projects focus on humans or human tissues, the human body is a remarkable collection of complex systems that cannot be artificially replicated. This makes animal testing essential to efforts to develop new treatments for MS.


Studies on animal models of MS EAE (experimental allergic encephalomyelitis) or other models have been at the core of much of the fundamental knowledge about the immunological and neurobiological processes that underlie MS. Using animal models, the potential value of copolymer 1, now known as Copaxone, was demonstrated; using animal models, the value of mitoxantrone now known as Novantrone and approved for worsening MS was demonstrated to control progression of MS-like disease. Studies on the viability of transplanting myelin-making cells and on the role of antibodies in remyelination have all had their origins in animal-based work.


Using high-powered genetic engineering techniques, investigators can now “create” animal models of MS that allow the understanding of the specific role of one immune cell type in the disease process; using animal models, we can test the potential for use of growth factors to regenerate damaged myelin and nerve tissues. 


None of these experiments could be done in their early stages in humans. Animal research is an essential component of unraveling the basic underpinnings of MS. It has proven to be absolutely essential for the development of therapies currently used for treatment of MS today, and will continue to be important in the future.



Is the Society Researching Alternative/Complementary Treatment Models?

Yes. Although the Society does not have a separate funding program for complementary treatment projects, the Society’s review process is open to any project that is related to MS, including those exploring alternative models for the cause of MS and the safety and efficacy of alternative treatment modalities.


The Society has recently supported research on reflexology in pain management, Ginkgo biloba for symptomatic treatment of cognitive problems in MS, the ability of cannabis and derivatives to fight MS spasticity, and programs on the value of rehabilitation and exercise programs in the treatment of MS.

What is the Society Doing to Find Better Treatments for MS?

We support treatment trials and laboratory studies to discover new therapies for people with MS. We also fund research into the cause, which will someday lead to a cure.


We also support research into rehabilitation techniques in efforts to speed recovery from acute attacks and find better ways to maximize physical and mental abilities to improve day to day living and working.


Well before pharmaceutical companies began pursuing the development of therapies for MS, the Society was supporting clinical trials in MS. Society-funded investigators were the first to conduct a major clinical trial of any form of interferon in MS; we supported pre-clinical tests of what is now Copaxone, and a Society-funded investigator was among the first to investigate the potential of Novantrone in rodents with MS-like disease.


The Society provided seed money to launch a network of investigators who wanted to conduct clinical studies to improve care and investigate new therapies, including those of little or no interest to drug companies. The group, called MS-CORE, includes over 85 sites in the U.S. and Canada.

What Clinical Studies is the Society Supporting?

The Society has over $6 million committed to support clinical studies in MS. Recent clinical trials we’ve supported include:


        A Phase III trial comparing oral versus IV steroids to speed recovery from acute attacks of MS;

        A controlled trial of the ability of cannabis to treat MS spasticity, taking place at  the University of California, Davis;

        Phase I clinical trials at the University of California at Los Angeles to test safety and preliminary effectiveness of the pregnancy hormone estriol in women with different forms of MS and testosterone in men with relapsing MS;

        A comparison study of stimulants for

        MS-related fatigue and cognitive problems;

        Phase I trials of several different experimental “peptide” therapies;

        A phase II clinical trial at the University of Southern California that tested T-cell vaccination in secondary-progressive MS;

        A phase II trial of Rituxumab, an immune-based experimental therapy for relapsing-remitting MS;

        A trial at the University of Wisconsin testing whether eating the eggs of a harmless worm can alter immune activity in MS;

        A study tracking whether the steroid methylprednisolone can protect brain tissue integrity in MS.

        Every year brings us closer to ending the devastating effects of MS. But we will not rest until we have an actual cure for every form of the disease.