A History of Multiple Sclerosis

By Colin L. Talley | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION

We are at a point of great hope in which advances in immunology, genetics, and neuroscience may increasingly be able to produce more effective treatments for MS. Biomedical science does not exist in a vacuum. The history of MS teaches us that in the long run, institutional contexts have been important in creating fertile ground for major transformations of the disease. The particular structure of the Salpêtrière created favorable conditions in which Charcot could identify MS as a unique malady by correlating clinical symptoms with microscopic pathological anatomy. The creation and maturation of the institutional structures of neurology were necessary so that a more accurate understanding of the epidemiology of MS could emerge. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society was crucial in raising public awareness of MS, prodding neurologists and the federal government to undertake research, and ending the social isolation of many people with MS. In the United States, federal government intervention changed and ameliorated the illness experience of people with MS through the creation, expansion, and liberalization of disability insurance programs through the Social Security system, the linking of Medicare to disability, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The United States became a biomedical superpower from the 1950s onward. The history of MS suggests that this was not simply a function of the size of the American economy; instead, history shows that, at least for MS research, the dominance of American biomedicine was not inevitable but to an important extent the result of the way lay persons, people with MS, their families, friends, and supporters were

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