The cause of MS is unknown, however it is thought that there may be a genetic link, as some people appear to be more genetically susceptible to having MS than others. Much research now compares genetic information from people with MS and those without. Finding the genes responsible for susceptibility to MS might eventually lead to the development of new and more effective ways to treat the condition.
MS is an autoimmune disease, where myelin, the protective insulating material of nerve fibres, is attacked by our own immune systems. To understand what is happening when a person develops MS, we first need to understand how healthy immune systems function. Dampening down the self-destructive act is a major goal of researchers in order to try and control the disease.
Since MS symptoms are principally caused by damage to myelin sheaths that cover and protect nerve fibres of the central nervous system (CNS), a major avenue of research is finding ways to encourage the regeneration of myelin. Myelin is made in the CNS by cells called oligodendrocytes. These cells can produce new myelin (remyelination), but this fails with time and may be responsible for disease progression. The cause of failure is unclear, and requires further research.
Until we find a cure for MS, research must also address how best to
control the symptoms and devise coping mechanisms to lessen the impact
of MS, preserve independence and improve quality of life.
Applied research focuses on the needs of people with MS and their families and professional carers, to improve the situation of people affected by MS. Research areas include the improvement of services, symptom management, and alternative therapy.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) provides a unique window into the human brain. We hope that using this technology will increase our understanding of the mechanisms of MS.
The UK Multiple Sclerosis Society Tissue Bank
The UK Multiple Sclerosis Tissue Bank coordinates the collection of donated brain and spinal cord tissue, and distributes samples to scientists conducting research into causes and treatments of MS. This is the only tissue bank dedicated to collecting tissue for MS research. This is vital for studying samples of tissue that have been damaged by MS. Donations from a single brain and spinal cord can provide many samples for different research projects. Such projects may help researchers to understand more about MS, and make it possible to target treatments more effectively.
The MS Society Research Strategy
Our missions are:
A research network has been set up, consisting of 160 people affected by MS recruited from the MS Society membership. Members of the network are going to be involved in all aspects of the research programme including setting research priorities, reviewing grant proposals, allocating funds, monitoring projects, evaluating findings and communicating results. Their involvement will help to improve the relevance and quality of the research that the Society funds.