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Promising Breakthroughs in 2016 Toward Stopping MS, Restoring What’s Been Lost, and Ending MS Forever

December 28, 2016

UPDATED 12/21/16
Significant research breakthroughs occurred in 2016 as a result of the National MS Society’s bold leadership and investments, offering new leads toward our vision of a world free of MS.  Over the course of the year, the Society invested over $42 million in 380 new and ongoing research projects, fellowships and initiatives around the world, and committed to further advance treatments for progressive MS with three new large-scale Collaborative Network Awards, launched by the International Progressive MS Alliance.
Large-scale clinical trials recently broke through a long-standing barrier, demonstrating, for the first time, an ability to slow the course of progressive MS. Additionally, the results of previous Society investments continue to mount. Here is a brief summary of significant 2016 research progress and initiatives.
STOPPING MS – Toward New Therapies and New Understanding
  • Positive results were announced from 2 studies of bone marrow-derived stem cells (HSCT) in people with aggressive, relapsing MS. More research is focused on who might benefit and how to reduce risks. Read more about the potential of stem cells for treating MS
  • Positive results were announced from a phase 3 trial of siponimod in people with secondary progressive MS, showing it could significantly reduce the risk of disability progression and provide other benefits compared with inactive placebo.
  • Ocrelizumab, which was shown to slow primary progressive MS and to reduce MS relapses in clinical trials, was granted “Breakthrough” status by the FDA and a decision about its possible approval is expected by the end of March 2017.   
  • The FDA approved Zinbryta (daclizumab) as a therapy for adults with relapsing forms of MS. This immune-modulating therapy is taken by under-the-skin injection every 4 weeks.
  • Results were published from a clinical trial that repurposed the oral epilepsy therapy called phenytoin, showing promise for protecting the nervous system. The Society co-funded this trial with the UK MS Society.
  • Progress from Society-funded researchers studying gut bacteria:
    • Harvard researchers reported that gut bacteria differ in people with MS and may respond to therapies, adding to growing evidence of the possible influence of gut bacteria on immune activity.
    • The U.S. Network of Pediatric MS Centers joined with investigators in Canada in a study that found that kids with MS had increased levels of bacteria linked to inflammation, compared to kids without MS.
  • iConquerMS, a research initiative by and for individuals living with MS, launched REAL MS, a long-term study collecting biological samples and experiences of people with MS to answer questions about the disease and to develop personalized medicine approaches.
  • The 2016 John Dystel Prize for MS Research went to Prof. Claudia Lucchinetti (Mayo Clinic) for contributions to understanding the neuropathology of MS – how the disease damages brain and spinal cord tissues -- and translating this understanding into better care for people with MS.
  • Dr. Daniel Reich of the NIH won the 2016 Barancik Prize for MS Research for novel approaches to imaging disease activity in people with MS which are creating new pathways to better treatments. 
RESTORING FUNCTION – Approaches to Wellness, Rehabilitation and Myelin Repair
  • An antihistamine called clemastine showed evidence of stimulating myelin repair in a small phase II MS trial. More studies are needed before this approach, identified with support from the Society, is verified.
  • Researchers at the University of California, Davis promoted the formation of new myelin, and improved some cognitive functions in mouse models of MS. Studying this novel strategy further may yield a solution for restoring function in people with MS.
  • A plant-based, low-fat diet improved fatigue in a small clinical trial. Although larger studies are needed, these results help to fine-tune our understanding of how managing diet may help people with MS. In 2016 the Society launched two new studies of dietary approaches to treating MS symptoms and improving quality of life.
  • Investigators in Israel, using pilot funding from the Society, found that a six-week virtual reality program could improve balance and reduce fear of falling in people with MS who had unstable walking.
  • Two small studies reported on the benefits of exercise for people who have MS with moderate to severe mobility impairments. This research shows the importance of physical activity in enabling people with all forms of MS to live their best lives. 
  • Researchers reported that sleep apnea was linked to memory and attention problems. The University of Michigan team is now funded by the Society to determine whether  treating sleep apnea can improve cognitive function in people with MS.
ENDING MS FOREVER – Exploring Risk Factors to Understand and Prevent MS
  • The International Consortium of MS Genetics has identified 200 genetic variations associated with MS, providing new leads to understanding how genes and other factors combine to make people susceptible to MS. These findings were made possible by the combined efforts of consortium members, who were able to analyze data from more than 100,000 people. The Society co-funded this work. 
  • Researchers reported that newborns with low blood levels of vitamin D were at increased risk of developing MS later in life, while newborns with higher levels of vitamin D were at reduced risk.
  • An increase in body mass from being “overweight” to “obese” was associated with a significant increase in the risk of developing MS, reported a Canadian study. Being overweight and smoking are also factors shown to worsen MS symptoms. 
Read more about MS risk factors 

  • Experts were convened in a joint meeting by the NIH and the Society to evaluate how MS “cohorts” – studies designed to track people with MS over time – might be leveraged to answer urgent questions about what causes progressive MS and how to stop it.
  • Clinical trials data, pooled for the Society-led Multiple Sclerosis Outcome Assessments Consortium, was made available for the first time to qualified researchers, leveraging a valuable collection of information about people with MS and their disease course.   
  • An international team supported by the Society and ECTRIMS published recommendations that will serve as a roadmap for research on how having MS along with another medical condition (comorbidity) impacts the course of disease.
  • The Society-convened Wellness Research Group continued to help establish priorities in wellness research related to diet, physical activity and emotional health, as part of the larger Wellness Initiative, and is completing a paper for publication to stimulate research in this area.
  • The Society launched funding for studying dietary approaches for MS, and also the MS Microbiome Consortium, which has expanded to an international collaboration to analyze gut bacteria and determine factors that may drive progression and to develop probiotic strategies for stopping progression.
  • The Society launched the SUMMIT collaboration to provide unprecedented details about MS and factors that drive progression, and to create an open platform of data that will permit researchers worldwide to make new discoveries.  
Read year-end progress on the Society’s Strategic Plan

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable disease of the central nervous system. Currently there is no cure. Symptoms vary from person to person and may include disabling fatigue, mobility challenges, cognitive changes, and vision issues. An estimated 1 million people live with MS in the United States. Early diagnosis and treatment are critical to minimize disability. Significant progress is being made to achieve a world free of MS.

About the National Multiple Sclerosis Society

The National MS Society, founded in 1946, is the global leader of a growing movement dedicated to creating a world free of MS. The Society funds cutting-edge research for a cure, drives change through advocacy and provides programs and services to help people affected by MS live their best lives. Connect to learn more and get involved:, Facebook, X, formerly known as Twitter, Instagram, YouTube or 1-800-344-4867.


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