Skip to navigation Skip to content

Research News & Progress

Research Breakthroughs
Watch Video

Stem Cells and MS

Stem Cells, HSCT and Other Promising Approaches to Treating MS

Read More

Read More
In the Pipeline

Clinical Trials

Read about MS therapies being tested right now through clinical trials.

Read more

In the News

Reflections on ECTRIMS

Read about progress and challenges in MS research from the world’s largest MS research meeting.

Read More

Read More


In this article
We are at a pivotal moment in time where significant progress is being made and breakthrough solutions can change the world for everyone with MS

We’ve come so far

When Sylvia Lawry started the MS movement in 1946 with the founding of the National MS Society, research into multiple sclerosis was almost non-existent. The disease took years to diagnose, and there were no therapies proven to slow the course of MS.

Things have changed. Decades of research into MS and the basic workings of the immune and nervous systems have built a critical platform of knowledge now serving as a springboard for progress. The Society’s $1.06 billion research investment has fueled many of these advances, and today’s picture looks different for many:

  • There are therapies specifically approved for treating and managing MS, and more potential MS therapies in development today than at any other time in history.

  • MS is more quickly diagnosed, enabling early and sustained therapy to slow disease activity

  • There is much greater awareness of the many symptoms of MS and ways to address them to improve quality of life

  • Scientists are making breakthroughs in identifying risk factors that can increase a person’s susceptibility to MS, which will help lead to ways to prevent the disease.

We have made progress but more must be done for those living with forms of progressive MS for which there are limited treatment options.  The hope – and potential - for new, more effective treatments for MS has never been greater. We are part of a global movement of millions of people working toward a world free of MS.

Critical Milestones

1981 - First MRI pictures of a brain affected by MS are produced, revolutionizing MS diagnosis
1984 - First modern documentation of cognitive problems in MS
1988 - First demonstration, using MRI, of significant lesion activity in MS, even when the disease seems quiet
1993 - First disease-modifying therapy for relapsing MS approved
1996 - First proof that aerobic exercise improves physical and psychological well-being in MS
1999 - Society grantees first to isolate immature cells in the adult brain capable of developing into replacements for myelin-making cells destroyed by MS
2003 - Italian researchers transplant cells to enhance nerve tissue repair in mice with MS
2004 - Pivotal study by Society Fellow shows that Black Americans tend to have a more aggressive course of MS than whote Americans
2005, 2010, 2018 - “McDonald Criteria” for diagnosing MS updated by Society Task Force, speeding time to diagnosis for many
2007 - With support from Society to International MS Genetics Consortium, two genes are confirmed to be linked to MS risk; many more uncovered since
2007 - First large-scale trial of sex hormone estriol gets underway in women with MS, a result of the Society’s targeting of gender differences
2010 - First oral disease-modifying therapy approved for relapsing MS
2012 - Launch of Progressive MS Alliance to speed the development of therapies
2013 - Studies hint that exercise and rehabilitation can improve many functions and even help rewire the brain
2014 - First large, phase 2 clinical trials of myelin repair strategy for MS are launched
2015 - Results of phase 2 trial of anti-LINGO suggests it has potential as myelin repair strategy 
2015 - Society co-hosts international conference on cell-based therapies to forge next steps for cell therapy in MS
2015 - Society funding helps launch MS Microbiome Consortium to promote research on role of gut bacteria in MS progression and treatment
2015-16 - Two large-scale clinical trials break through long-standing barrier by showing benefit in primary progressive and secondary progressive MS
2016 - Additional positive results announces from two studies of bone marrow-derived stem cells (HSCT) in people with aggressive, relapsing MS
2016 - Society-funded International Consortium of MS Genetics identifies 200 genetic variations linked to MS, offering new leads to how genes and other factors that make people susceptible to developing MS
2016 - Society launches two new studies testing the ability of dietary approaches to treat MS symptoms and improve quality of life  
2016-17 - International Progressive MS Alliance awards three large-scale Collaborative Network Awards to promote solutions for people with progressive MS
2017 - First disease-modifying therapy for primary progressive MS is approved
2018 - First MS therapy specifically approved to treat pediatric MS
2018 - A Phase 2 trial showed that ibudilast could reduce brain atrophy in progressive MS. The trial was funded collaboratively by the National MS Society, the NINDS, its NeuroNext trials network, with support by MediciNova, the supplier of ibudilast 
2019 - Study sponsored by the National MS Society conducted by leading experts estimates that nearly 1 million adults are living with MS in the United States. This is more than twice the previously reported number
2020 - National MS Society releases recommendations for aHSCT-bone marrow transplant for MS
2020 - Society-supported Wellness Research Group publishes exercise and physical activity recommendations for ALL people with MS
2020 -  National MS Society, Consortium of MS Centers, and others establish the North American MS COVID-19 Clinical Database and contribute to global initiative to track COVID in people with MS
2021 - Study shows that stem cells derived from skin of people with MS make normal myelin, a plus for future nervous system repair strategies
2021 - Studies suggest changes in nervous system related to MS begin well before there are preceptible symptoms - offers promise for stopping the disease before it is diagnosed
2021 - Society-funded researchers discover subset of brain cells that fight inflammation with instructions from gut bacteria, opening new therapy approaches
2022 - The Pathways to MS Cures research roadmap is published and gains global endorsement
2022 - Society-funded researchers publish the strongest evidence yet that the common Epstein-Barr virus can trigger MS when other risk factors are present

Download a Timeline of MS Research Progress (.pdf).

Recent progress and new leads

Researchers are tracking down exciting leads and making headway in virtually every field related to MS. New technologies such as gene chip technology and new MRI-based imaging techniques are also speeding progress.  These advances allow scientists to revisit age-old questions about MS, leading to insights and significant progress toward stopping MS progression, restoring what’s been lost, and ending MS forever. Here are some recent examples:

Stopping MS

  • Researchers are making headway to understand how the body’s gut microbiome may influence MS severity, which could lead to new approaches to stopping MS.
  • Testing is underway of approaches to protecting the nervous system from MS damage, including repurposing therapies already approved for other disorders.
  • Major clinical trials are underway testing novel approaches to treating all forms of MS, including progressive MS.
  • The global Progressive MS Alliance is focusing new resources on finding the answers that will lead to new treatments and ultimately, end progressive MS.

Restoring what’s been lost

  • Scientists are learning new information about how MS damages the nervous system and cells and factors involved in the body’s ability to recover from injury. Early human trials of investigative therapies are underway aimed at repairing myelin.
  • Studies are providing new evidence that exercise and rehabilitation can improve many functions and even help rewire and possibly build areas of the brain, and researchers are pursuing these leads to find the best ways people can maximize quality of life.

Ending the disease forever

  • Studies are uncovering lifestyle factors that people can change – such as smoking, childhood obesity, and vitamin D levels – that may reduce the risk of the next generation developing MS.
  • Researchers have found gene variations that combine to influence whether a person is more susceptible to MS, and are pursuing these clues to help understand what causes MS and how to find better treatments and prevention.

Latest research news

More News


The National MS Society is Here to Help

Newly Diagnosed

If you or someone close to you has recently been diagnosed, access our MS information and resources.

Start Here

Start Here
© 2023 The National Multiple Sclerosis Society is a tax exempt 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Its Identification Number (EIN) is 13-5661935.