Research Trends

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: July 2022

Understanding of multiple sclerosis [MS] has improved a lot in recent years. Researchers are learning more about MS risk factors, potential causes, and progression almost every day. These dedicated scientists make MS their top priority. As a result, they have created more effective diagnostic and treatment options.1,2

Although MS diagnosis and treatment have come a long way, there is still progress to be made. There are a few main goals of MS research. Each goal has its own exciting potential outcomes and could improve quality of life for many people with MS.

Slowing or stopping MS progression

Many current treatment options are highly effective at preventing new MS relapses [acute episodes of new neurologic symptoms] in relapsing-remitting MS. New therapies that are highly effective or are safer are also being studied. However, current therapies have limited to no effect on progressive phases of MS, when symptoms just slowly worsen over time. Currently, a top priority of MS research is to discover new therapies that slow or prevent progressive MS disease.1,2

While current disease modifying therapies [DMTs] all target the immune system in some way to limit inflammation and damage in the brain, some researchers are studying more neurodegenerative pathways to see if they can be targeted in progressive MS. Other research involves looking at the relationship between the digestive system [gut microbiome] and the nervous system [the gut-brain axis]. Researchers also want to discover whether treatments for other health conditions that have similar pathology to MS can also be used for MS.1,2

Researchers also are studying blood tests to look for different components in the blood [fluid biomarkers]. These findings will help doctors better monitor progression and response to treatment. They might also be used to predict who is at a higher risk for progression in general.1,2

Stem cell therapy

One area of research that has grown in recent years is stem cell treatment. Stem cells are unique cells in the body. They have the power to change into many different types of cells and perform different functions. Stem cells are found in embryos and in adults.

One kind of stem cell therapy is called autologous hematopoietic stem cell therapy [aHSCT]. In aHSCT, a person’s own immune system stem cells can be taken out of the body. These cells are stored in a lab while the person is treated with chemotherapy to remove their current immune system. Once this is complete, their stem cells are put back into their body.1-3

The goal of aHSCT is to reset the immune system to prevent it from attacking itself. This could slow or stop MS-related damage. aHSCT is a type of blood transfusion. Due to this and the temporary removal of your immune system, it has significant risks. It also requires a long hospital stay and is expensive. At this time, it is used only on people with severe relapsing-remitting MS who have not responded to other treatment options.3

Repairing existing damage

Some research focuses on how to repair damage that is already done. This can be in addition to slowing progression or as an option on its own. Finding ways to restore the damaged areas of the central nervous system could significantly improve quality of life for many people. Experts are studying MS-related damage closely to find out which cells might be involved in its repair.1,2

Some studies focus on exercise as an option for restoring function. Another big area of interest is the protective covering around nerve cells that is damaged in MS [called myelin] and whether it can be regenerated.1

Better prevention and diagnosis

Many studies focus on who gets MS and why. They look at risk factors to find out how MS might be prevented. These risk factors include:1,2

  • Diet
  • Vitamin levels
  • Smoking
  • Viral infections

Researchers also are studying genetic factors. Recent technology allows them to take a closer look at many different genes. Finding which gene mutations might increase MS risk or severity can help with prevention and treatment efforts.1,2

Research is also ongoing to better diagnose MS. While people are being diagnosed sooner than they once were, there is still room for improvement. Experts are developing better imaging technology. At the same time, advancements in machine learning and artificial intelligence are helping them read these images and look for patterns. All of this can lead to more efficient MS diagnosis.1,2

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