Brain cells under the microscope

Clusters of brain cells

MS is an exceptionally difficult disease to research for a number of reasons:

  • The cause of MS is unknown, though it is generally believed to be a combination of genetic, immunological and environmental factors. However, because it often takes many years for someone to be diagnosed, and because there are so many variables, it has so far been impossible to determine a specific cause or trigger.
  • The effects are within two of the most inaccessible parts of the body, the brain and spinal cord. It is only since the advent of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), in the early 1980s, that scientists have actually been able to view the actual lesions within the brain and spinal cord.
  • There is no single pattern to the disease and the course of the disease is unpredictable. The number and position of lesions on a patient’s central nervous system does not necessarily correlate with their relapse occurrence or level of disability. There are no definitive tests for the disease.

For all these reasons it is hard to compare people’s experiences scientifically. Registries, which collect data from clinics or directly from patients, can help to inform global research into the diagnosis and treatment of people living with MS. In order to research the effectiveness of new treatments, extensive randomised controlled clinical trials are required.

Despite these difficulties, a wide range of research is taking place by thousands of scientists and researchers around the world. Some key topics of interest include:

  • Research into new treatments for progressive MS. The MS International Federation is a founder member of the Progressive MS Alliance, which is taking a global, collaborative approach to research into progressive MS.
  • Many of our members fund and support research into treatments for MS based on stem cells.
  • MSIF is co-leading a global initiative into patient reported outcomes for MS.
  • Research to understand the effect of MS on people’s daily life and functioning can lead to developing new types of support or policies to improve their quality of life.


You may also be interested in the Research issue of MS in focus magazine. You will need Acrobat Reader to view these files.