A History of Multiple Sclerosis

By Colin L. Talley | Go to book overview

FIVE

THE EMERGENCE OF MULTIPLE
SCLEROSIS MOVEMENTS IN
NORTH AMERICA AND EUROPE,
1946–1976

INTRODUCTION

MS was a mostly unknown disease to Americans before World War II. After 1946 it suddenly emerged into popular consciousness as an important problem. And it simultaneously emerged as a major research enterprise for neurology. These developments were made possible by vigorous lay activism to publicize the disease and raise funds for research. In the international context, this happened first in the United States due to its tradition of lay health activism. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS), founded in 1946, modeled itself on previous organizations such as the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. However, unlike the case with cancer or polio crusaders, MS activists worked in a culture in which their disease was relatively unknown.

The NMSS made MS a research priority in American neurology during the late 1940s and 1950s by creating economic incentives to do research and by increasing the interest of existing neurological organizations in the disease. Between 1946 and 1955, the fifty-four chapters of the NMSS raised a cumulative total of about $1,355,642 (around $3.4 million in 2007) for research.1 By 1960, the NMSS had raised a total of $6,067,381 (nearly $42.7million in 2007) for research into MS and had seventy-two research projects underway.2 They also funded important scientific conferences in 1948, 1953, 1957, and 1962.3

This expansion of research into MS cannot be ascribed simply to the general increase in biomedical research after 1945 funded by the federal government because

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