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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


If you had multiple sclerosis in...


1890 The cause was thought to be suppression of sweat.  You would probably be treated with herbs and bedrest. Your life expectancy after diagnosis: 5 years.


1910 The cause was thought to be unknown toxin in blood. You would probably be treated with purgatives and stimulants. Your life expectancy after diagnosis: 10 years.


1940 The cause was thought to be blood clots and poor circulation. You would probably be treated with drugs that improve circulation. Your life expectancy after diagnosis: 18 years.


1960 The cause was thought to be allergic reaction. You would probably be treated with vitamins and antihistamines. Your life expectancy after diagnosis: 25 years.


2006 The cause was thought to be autoimmune reaction, possibly linked to infection. You would probably be treated with steroids and immune regulators. Your life expectancy after diagnosis: essentially normal for most.


Life expectancy from time of diagnosis increased over time as management and control of complications improved. (Based on research by Loren A. Rolak, MD, Marshfield MS Center, The Marshfield Clinic, Marshfield, Wisconsin.)


Are We Making Progress in Finding the Cause of MS?


Yes, a great deal of progress is being made. Although MS is not hereditary or contagious, it is believed to occur in genetically susceptible people who are exposed to an infectious agent, such as a virus or bacterium. These factors may combine to cause the person’s immune system to attack myelin insulation on nerve fibers.


In the 1970s, the immunological nature of the disease began to be clarified, an area of research that continues to evolve and move forward rapidly. In the mid-1980s, with the advent of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the first “picture” of the damage done by MS in the brain and spinal cord became possible, and MR technology continues to grow in sophistication and in its application in MS, both in terms of understanding the pathology of MS and in terms of efficient means of testing new treatments. Only in the early 1990s was genetic technology evolved to the point where “whole genome” screens of individuals with complex, multi-gene diseases like MS, became possible. In 2005 researchers created a “Haplotype Map” which Society investigators are now applying to the search for MS genes.


Society-supported research has contributed to our current understanding of the complex cause of MS. The actual neurological signs and symptoms of MS are generated by dysfunction in the conduction of nerve signals, a consequence of immune-mediated damage to insulation around nerve fibers, and to the nerve fibers themselves, throughout the brain and spinal cord.


This basic understanding of MS has led to new treatments that control immune function and to experimental therapies that may protect brain tissues or enhance nerve fiber conduction even in the face of immune-mediated damage.


Research into how damaged tissue may be repaired, replaced and protected is now gathering momentum and offers new areas for therapeutic intervention. Investigators are also harnessing new tools, such as gene-chip technology and new MRI-based imaging techniques, in the fight against MS. These technologies are allowing researchers to revisit age-old questions about this disease in exciting new ways, and may lead to answers that will allow doctors to stop the immune attack and ultimately, repair tissue damage to restore function in individuals with MS.