The society is the largest private sponsor of MS research in the world. Support for basic and clinical research is provided in the form of research grants and contracts, training programs, faculty awards, pilot project grants, workshop support, and other award programs including targeted, society-initiated projects.
Most research program money is spent on full research grants (averaging $114,000 per year), followed by postdoctoral fellowships (averaging $32,000 per year). The top area of research emphasis is immunology, followed by glial biology (study of myelin-making cells and other support cells of the brain that do not conduct nerve signals) and infectious triggers. Some 42 percent of all newly funded research projects focus on humans or human tissues; the remaining funds support fundamental research.
In the spring 1999 review cycle, annual research grant awards ranged from $70,960 to $251,855, averaging about $114,000. These awards include no more than 10 percent indirect costs. The society's research awards exceed those of other major voluntary health agencies. For example, the American Diabetes Association gives a maximum of $100,000 (including indirect costs) per year for research grants. The American Cancer Society gives a maximum stipend of $32,000 per year for postdoctoral fellowships. By contrast, National Institutes of Health research grants currently average $255,000 annually, including indirect costs, which can exceed 50 percent of total direct costs.
In fiscal year 1998 (October 1, 1997-September 30, 1998), research and related expenses accounted for 18 percent of combined chapter and home office expenses and 37 percent of expenses of the home office. During FY 1999, the society supported more research than in any previous year—expending $22.5 million (unaudited) for all research programs and support activities, including some 333 new and ongoing MS research projects.
Applications are reviewed and funded in two cycles per year. Research grant proposals are reviewed in the fall and spring; fellowships are reviewed once each year in the spring (for July 1 startups); pilot projects are reviewed and approved on a year-round, ad hoc basis; and health care delivery and policy (HCDP) contracts are reviewed once each year in the spring (for July 1 startups). Funding decisions are made within five months of the deadline for applications, awards are made three months later, adding up to at least eight months from submission of application to receipt of award. The comparable cycle at the National Institutes of Health is nine to ten months.
Of 300 projects reviewed for all programs during FY 1999, 129 (43 percent) were found meritorious and approved for funding. Successful applicants are required to submit annual and final reports detailing progress toward their research aims and fiscal reports of their award money expenditures.
When needed, the society convenes special task forces of experts in a particular field to explore new possibilities in MS research and to make recommendations for steps to stimulate research in these areas. Recent examples include the 1996 Task Force on Clinical Trial Outcome Measures, the 1997 Database Advisory Panel; and in 1998, the Task Force on Gender in MS and Autoimmunity, the