Searching for better treatments, including better management of symptoms and complementary/alternative approaches, for all forms of MS is a high priority for the National MS Society. Well-designed clinical trials are crucial to determining the safety and effectiveness of therapies for MS. The National MS Society is dedicated to this effort in several ways:
- by providing support to investigators conducting trials
- by funding parallel studies to understand how an experimental treatment may work
- by training young physicians to excel in the meticulous process of MS clinical trials through our Sylvia Lawry Physician Fellowship Program
- and by convening scientific work groups to develop new tools and consensus related to conducting MS clinical trials. We funded the development of quality of life measures specific to MS, and foster their use as “outcome” measures in clinical trials and other research.
Finding better treatments and a cure requires better understanding of the immune attack in MS and the resulting injury to the central nervous system. For people who already live with disability caused by MS, a cure would mean stopping the immune attack and finding a way to reverse the damage to restore function.
Here are some ways that Society-funded research has propelled treatment breakthroughs:
- Interferons: Society-funded investigators were the first to conduct a major clinical trial of any form of interferon in MS.
- Copaxone: The Society supported pre-clinical tests of what is now Copaxone.
- Mitoxantrone: Society-funded investigator was among the first to investigate the potential of mitoxantrone in rodents with MS-like disease.
- Tysabri: The significance of the integrin molecule, the study of which led to the development of Tysabri, was discovered as part of a Society-funded research fellowship.
- Ampyra: The first studies of the potassium-blocking approach in people with MS were supported by the Society, leading to the approval of Ampyra for its ability to improve walking in people with any type of MS; this is the first therapy specifically approved to treat a symptom of MS
- 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.
We’re feeding the therapy pipeline in many ways, including:
- Funding basic research to uncover new targets for stopping the immune attack and protecting and rebuilding the nervous system
- Funding preclinical research on, and clinical trials of, promising agents
- Identifying funding gaps and providing seed money to support industry-based drug development through Fast Forward.
- To improve the quality of clinical trials, the National MS Society supports a training program designed to train physicians in the art and science of conducting clinical trials. Many go on to test new therapies for MS.
- The Society is also funding research into new MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) techniques and new technologies such as OCT (optical coherence tomography, a way to visualize the health of nerve fibers at the back of the eye) and low-contrast vision testing to better track the effects of new therapies on brain tissues and disease activity.
Read more about how the Society has propelled research progress.
Research on Treatments to Improve Symptoms
Although we are making great strides toward understanding the cause of MS and finding more effective treatments, people with the disease continue to face daily challenges while coping with its unpredictable effects and symptoms. An important aspect of the Society’s research program is the search for ways to improve symptom management, functional abilities, quality of life, and the treatment of relapses.
Recently funded research projects related to helping people manage their MS include:
- techniques for improving learning and memory for everyday activities
- studying the effects of a home-based aerobic exercise program
- a study following a group of individuals with very mild cognitive deficits to determine to what extent these deficits change or progress over time, and at what rate
- comparing the time and accuracy of performing specific physical movements in patients who first practice the movements by mentally visualizing the task, compared to others who perform the task without prior visualization
- Managing relapses: The administration of steroids is the most common treatment to help speed recovery from MS relapses. Seven MS centers in the New York City area are studying the safety and benefit of oral as compared to intravenous steroids in the management of acute attacks in MS. If oral steroids are found to be as effective and safe as when administered by the intravenous route, this study may lead to a major change in the practice of medicine related to treating MS exacerbations.
- Read more about Research in MS Rehabilitation.
The National MS Society recognizes that people with MS often turn to alternative/complementary therapies such as vitamins, herbs, movement and other approaches. Rather than dismiss these possible alternative therapies, we are interested in funding well-controlled studies that will investigate their possible therapeutic effects.
Here is a sampling of studies of complementary therapies that we’ve funded:
- Ginkgo biloba – a small study in people with MS and cognitive impairment, suggesting further testing of ginkgo to improve learning and memory was warranted
- Ginseng –a pilot study of ginseng to treat MS fatigue
- Vitamin D – studies in mice suggesting vitamin D can influence the immune attack, a study suggesting that higher vitamin D concentrations in the blood are associated with a lower risk of MS, and a large study currently underway is investigating whether increased sunlight exposure and consequent increased production of vitamin D reduces the risk of developing MS
- Omega-3-fatty acids – a small study testing their impact on disease activity and quality of life
- Cannabis – and its derivatives are being tested for their impact on spasticity in a Society-supported clinical trial
- Exercise regimens – are being explored for their ability to improve symptoms such as spasticity and to protect nervous system tissue
Current trials the Society is Supporting
Current clinical trials the Society is supporting to stop MS in its tracks are listed here. (.pdf)