Aside from developing new treatments for those already affected by MS, the ultimate goals for MS research must be prevention and cure. In order to prevent MS, researchers must find the cause and devise a means of identifying people at risk for developing MS. Finding a cause will require identification of the environmental agent(s) that initiate the autoimmune attack. Current research is focused on certain viral or bacterial pathogens prevalent in high risk areas of the world.
To prevent MS it will also be important to identify the primary target of the immune response to the central nervous system. Several candidate central nervous system proteins -- including myelin and its associated proteins-- are under scrutiny but the role these proteins play and whether they are primary targets or secondary casualties is not yet completely clear. Once the cause and primary target of the MS immune response are known, scientists may be better able to devise strategies specifically designed to reduce the incidence of MS. In order to identify people at risk for developing MS, the factors that set at risk individuals apart from others must be found. If doctors could detect susceptible individuals before they experience symptoms, preventive measures might be taken to reduce the chance that they would develop MS.