Multiple sclerosis community

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Understanding multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic, progressive disease of the central nervous system in which myelin, the insulating sheath that surrounds nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord, is damaged. The myelin sheath protects nerve fibers in much the same way that insulation protects an electric cord from short circuiting. When the myelin sheath is damaged, the flow of electrical impulses in the brain and spinal cord is disrupted, causing a wide range of symptoms that vary from person to person.

Symptoms may be permanent, or they may come and go. Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable disease. However, as MS progresses, it can become seriously disabling and, in extreme cases, life-threatening.

In the United States, 400,000 Americans have MS, and the average age at which the condition starts is 30–33 years of age. Globally, an estimated 2.1 million people are affected by MS and it is the most common long-term, gradually worsening neurological disease among young adults.

Types of multiple sclerosis

  • Relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS): the most common form of MS (more than 80% of cases). Relapsing-remitting MS involves temporary attacks called relapses, when new symptoms appear or existing/previous symptoms worsen. Relapses alternate with periods of remission, during which some or all symptoms may disappear.
  • Primary progressive MS (PPMS): an uncommon form of MS with symptoms from the beginning slowly worsening over time, with no relapses or remissions.
  • Secondary progressive MS (SPMS): a form of MS in which symptoms worsen steadily over time after an initial relapsing-remitting course, with or without relapses and remissions. Most people with RRMS will transition to SPMS in the long term.

Advances in multiple sclerosis treatment

Therapy for MS has made great strides since the first disease-modifying medicines were introduced 15 years ago. There is still no known cause or cure for MS, but advances in clinical research are increasing the understanding of MS and effective ways to manage this sometimes debilitating disease.

In today's research pipeline, there are hundreds of potential therapies undergoing clinical trials to test their safety and whether they work as treatments for MS.

You can get involved

There are opportunities for people with MS and healthy volunteers to contribute to MS clinical research, and potentially change the future treatment of this life-limiting condition.


The resources below provide further information on MS and advice on taking part in clinical research.

For Potential Participants

Possible link between multiple sclerosis and viral infection?

Researchers are looking to learn more about if and how a virus can trigger multiple sclerosis


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