The Importance of Research
Prior to the introduction of the scientific method, knowledge was based on beliefs. Without proof, beliefs were determined by tradition, untested theorizing or even the social status of the believer. This led to many beliefs that we would consider odd today. For example, that the earth was the center of the solar system rather than the sun, or that most diseases were due to an imbalance of hot or cold in our bodies. In the case of multiple sclerosis, this has led to some very unusual, and potentially dangerous, treatments over the past few centuries. These have included poisons like strychnine and mercury, removal of large quantities of blood, shaving the head and electrical shocks.
The scientific method requires that the researcher state a hypothesis. This hypothesis must be something that can be put to the test to determine whether it is correct. An experiment is then designed to answer the question of whether the hypothesis is correct. Since it is difficult to design a “perfect experiment”, this testing must often be repeated by several researchers with differing methods before a hypothesis can be widely accepted. This process of testing and retesting provides many opportunities for the hypothesis to be altered and refined before it is accepted.
Research is the only method of determining whether a treatment for multiple sclerosis is truly effective. The development of a treatment for multiple sclerosis normally required years of study in animals, and then three phases of studies in humans. These studies require that new treatments be compared to an older existing treatment, or to a placebo (a “sugar pill”) to prove their effectiveness. Without rigorous study designs, it cannot be certain that a new treatment is truly effective.
The first medication to slow multiple sclerosis was released to the market in 1993. There are now several medications available with many more in development. Though there is still no cure for multiple sclerosis, in the future, we expect better treatments that are more convenient and safer.
Multiple Sclerosis Center1600 East Jefferson
Seattle, WA 98122
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