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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 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 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, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis, and there is currently no cure for MS. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are leading to better understanding and moving us closer to a world free of MS. An estimated 1 million people live with MS in the United States. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, and it affects women three times more than men.


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