Multiple sclerosis is a progressive disease for which no cure has yet been found. Researchers are working to identify new and better strategies to stop that progression.
People with primary-progressive MS (read more about courses of MS) experience a slow but nearly continuous worsening of their disease from the onset, with no distinct relapses or remissions. A more common type of progressive MS is secondary-progressive MS, which starts as relapsing-remitting MS and then transitions into a progressive course, with or without occasional relapses.
Progressive MS Alliance
In the first meeting of its kind, more than 170 MS researchers and clinicians from around the world gathered to discuss key challenges and strategies to expedite treatments for progressive forms of MS. Read more here (.pdf).
Progressive Research Questions
Some of the burning questions that are being addressed through research include:
- What factors influence the transition from a largely relapsing-remitting course with distinct immune attacks to a largely progressive (steadily worsening) course (secondary-progressive MS)?
- Can the disease-modifying therapies prevent, delay, or slow long-term MS progression?
- What causes primary-progressive MS, and is it the same (currently unknown) thing that causes more common forms of MS?
- What new therapies will help people with progressive MS?
- What causes degeneration of nerve fibers—thought to be the cause of long-term disability experienced by many with MS—and how can that be stopped or reversed?
National MS Society Focus on Progressive MS
Although many of the National MS Society’s research studies explore virtually every aspect of MS and more basic aspects of how the nervous system and immune system works, some studies focus specifically on progressive forms of MS. As part of its Strategic Response for 2011-2015, the National MS Society is increasing its focus on understanding mechanisms that drive MS progression and finding new therapies to treat it. Current projects involving people with progressive MS include:
- Four different teams at Harvard and State University of New York, Buffalo using different methods and approaches to identify possible risk factors that drive progression, some of which may be preventable. Ideally, they will find ways to more quickly identify progressive disease based on biological markers, rather than waiting for symptoms to worsen.
- A genetics study at Vanderbilt University looking at how variants in a person’s DNA may lead to progressive MS.
- An imaging study of people with primary-progressive MS at Massachusetts General Hospital aimed at revealing spinal cord damage that is difficult to detect.
- New York University researchers developing and applying a new way to assess cumulative disability over many functions to provide a tool to improve care and research.
- MS Tissue Banks that provide shared resources to empower investigations into disease mechanisms.
- Clinical trials at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, of novel rehabilitation strategies aimed at restoring mobility in people with progressive and advanced MS. A Cleveland Clinic study evaluating a new "hip flexion assist device" designed to improve walking ability.
- A Fast Forward alliance to accelerate the clinical application of adult stem cells for MS including progressive MS.
- Drexel University researchers examining driving ability at various stages of MS progression to improve safety and independence.
- A clinical trial at the University of California, Los Angeles testing the ability of aerobic exercise to improve cognitive function.
- A study at Buffalo General Hospital investigating changes in the brain (atrophy) that may lead to personality and behavior disorders in MS and the impact of those disorders on disease course and quality of life.
- Oregon Health & Science University pilot study evaluating the sensitivity of an electronic instrument to detect and measure gait and mobility changes in people with MS.
- In collaboration with the MS Society of Canada, the Society has funded seven research projects focusing on whether CCSVI (vein blockages) plays a role in the MS disease process.
- Shared DNA bank at the University of California, San Francisco, propelling studies aimed at identifying genes that make people susceptible to developing MS, and genes that may influence course and severity.