Over the years, various viruses, bacteria, and toxins have been proposed as possible causes of MS. None of them have withstood the scrutiny of careful research, although, in a few cases, they have not been ruled out as causes. Although erroneous claims in MS research are relatively rare—there have been fewer than five in the last five years—their effects can be far-reaching. In some cases, erroneous claims have misdirected research, resulting in a substantial but unproductive investment in time and money. These erroneous claims have also led to the treatment of patients with inappropriate, expensive, and potentially harmful therapies. For example, the claim that metal toxicity causes MS induced some patients to have teeth extracted and amalgam fillings removed. New claims of MS pathogens, when appropriate, should be resolved as quickly as possible.
The MS societies are the most likely organizations to undertake such tests of newly proposed pathogens on an ad hoc basis. One possible approach is that following a potentially credible claim implicating a particular pathogen in MS, a society could oversee a project whereby the investigator making the claim, as well as an expert in the particular pathogen, could review clinical samples. A similar approach could be taken in terms of other claims related to diagnosis or treatment of MS in situations in which a quick confirmation of the results would be important to MS patients or to the neurological and scientific community. This approach should reduce costs to patients, researchers, and even the MS societies. The key elements of such a program would be:
evaluation of credible claims that are judged to have the potential for influencing research strategies or treatments,
rapid response, and
generation of replicate data sets, necessary for establishing the reliability of claims.
If the validation experiments were conducted in established laboratories equipped with the necessary expertise and research tools, the costs should be relatively low. It might also be possible to offer the possibility of confirming such path-breaking claims prior to their initial publication in order to increase the immediate impact of the discoveries or spare investigators embarrassment should their data be incorrect.