For Patients: Multiple Sclerosis Research

Dr. Dennis Bourdette, M.D., FANA, FAAN, in a lab coat in front of a computer at the OHSU Multiple Sclerosis Center
Dr. Dennis Bourdette, M.D., FANA, FAAN, is the founder of the OHSU Multiple Sclerosis Center and its extensive research program.

The OHSU Multiple Sclerosis Center is at the forefront of research to understand, treat and find a cure for multiple sclerosis. We have a team with dozens of scientists who:

  • Have developed promising new treatments for MS that are being tested in patients.
  • Are making strides that could lead to treatments to repair myelin, the nerve covering affected in MS and related disorders.
  • Work with other top MS centers around the world, so we can advise patients about the latest advances.
  • Offer patients access to clinical trials to test new therapies.
  • Are international leaders in understanding how lifestyle changes and complementary medicine affect MS.
A groundbreaking study by Rebecca Spain, M.D., M.S.P.H., showed that an over-the-counter supplement called lipoic acid reduces brain atrophy (shrinking) in patients with secondary progressive MS.
A groundbreaking study by Rebecca Spain, M.D., M.S.P.H., showed that an over-the-counter supplement called lipoic acid reduces brain atrophy (shrinking) in patients with secondary progressive MS.

Research excellence

National leadership: Our experts are among the top MS researchers in the United States. Their work earns sought-after grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and many other organizations.

Collaborative research: We belong to the prestigious Consortium of MS Centers and to the Race to Erase MS Center Without Walls, a network of the nation’s top MS research institutions.

Respected authors: Our team members have published hundreds of articles in leading scientific journals to share breakthroughs.

Future scientists: In partnership with the VA Portland Health Care System MS Center of Excellence, we offer fellowships in MS and neuroimmunology to train the next generation of clinician-scientists.

Clinical trials

Clinical trials enable our scientists to test ways to prevent, identify and treat MS and related diseases. We offer clinical trials to study all types and stages of MS. If you are a potential candidate for a clinical trial, your care team will discuss options with you.

Research programs

Some of our most promising research areas include:

Tom Scanlan, Ph.D., and Meredith Hartley, Ph.D.
Tom Scanlan, Ph.D., and Meredith Hartley, Ph.D.

Myelin repair: OHSU researchers shared groundbreaking research in 2019 showing that a compound can trigger myelin repair in mice. Damage to myelin, the covering for nerve fibers, is at the heart of MS and related disorders. No medication yet exists to repair myelin in humans. Researchers hope that they can eventually show the compound has the same effect in humans — and with few side effects. The study’s authors included Dennis Bourdette, M.D.; Tom Scanlan, Ph.D.; and Meredith Hartley, Ph.D.

Lipoic acid: Lipoic acid is widely available as a dietary supplement. OHSU researchers discovered its potential as a treatment for MS by studying it in mice almost two decades ago. In 2017, Dr. Rebecca Spain and her research team showed that lipoic acid can slow brain atrophy (shrinking) and disability in patients with secondary progressive MS. Now Dr. Spain and her team are leading a larger five-year study on the effects of lipoic acid on MS.

Autoimmune encephalitis: OHSU scientists Gary Westbrook, M.D., and Eric Gouaux, Ph.D., led development of an animal model to help them study the brain illness featured in “Brain on Fire,” an autobiography and 2017 film adaptation. They were able to develop mice that model the disease, a form of autoimmune encephalitis called anti-NMDA encephalitis. Read a story and watch a video about their work.

Myelin biology: A research team led by Kelly Monk, Ph.D., is studying zebrafish to better understand myelin biology. Monk, a global expert on glial cells and myelin production, and her team believe that understanding how these cells work can open the door to treatments that repair myelin.

Wellness and MS: Our center is internationally known for studying how lifestyle changes affect MS. Our team — led by Vijayshree Yadav, M.D. — is looking at the effects of nutrition, fitness and mindfulness. Our work includes a clinical trial on whether a low-fat, plant-based diet can ease fatigue, one of the most disabling symptoms of MS.

Primate research: Our experts discovered that macaque monkeys at OHSU’s Oregon National Primate Research Center naturally develop a disease like MS. The disease is most likely caused by an unusual virus. We are using this knowledge to see whether a similar virus may be present in people with MS. As we learn more, it could lead to new ways to treat MS.

Arthur Vandenbark, Ph.D.
Arthur Vandenbark, Ph.D.

Progressive MS: Arthur Vandenbark, Ph.D., and Dennis Bourdette, M.D., have identified cytokines (proteins that play a role in the immune system) and genetic markers that may play a role in progressive MS. This is a severe form of the disease in which symptoms worsen over time. The findings could lead to a test for those at risk of progressive MS, possibly enabling doctors to slow or stop the illness. The findings also shed light on risk factors for developing progressive MS.

MS and blood flow: Research suggests that high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease can contribute to worsening disability in MS. That may be because these conditions slow blood flow in certain parts of the brain. Dr. Vijayshree Yadav leads a team using advanced technology to see how blood flow affects the brain, and how it changes as MS becomes more serious. These studies may lead to treatments that can slow the disease’s progress.

Understanding how myelin forms: Ben Emery, Ph.D., leads a team at OHSU’s Emery Lab working to understand the complex processes that produce myelin. The team is using genetically modified mice and other methods to understand the genetic pathways and cells at the root of myelin creation. The team hopes to shed light on how myelin loss affects health, and how to promote myelin repair.

Improving balance: More than half of people with MS fall each year, and many are injured. Fear of falling, along with overall problems with balance, may prevent MS patients from taking part in activities they enjoy. Michelle Cameron, M.D., M.C.R., PT, studies falls and imbalance in people with MS. Her research seeks to prevent falls through medication, education and exercise.

The following centers and labs do research related to MS and other illnesses.

  • Advanced Imaging Research Center
  • Balance Disorders Laboratory
  • Emery Lab, led by Ben Emery, Ph.D.
  • Gouaux Lab, led by Eric Gouaux, Ph.D.
  • Jungers Center for Neurosciences Research
  • Logan Lab, led by Mary A. Logan, Ph.D.
  • Monk Lab, led by Kelly Monk, Ph.D.
  • Neuroimmunology Research Laboratories, at the VA Portland Health Care System, bring together immunologists, neuroscientists and molecular biologists to better understand MS causes and how to protect nerves from damage.
  • Oregon National Primate Research Center
  • Tykeson Multiple Sclerosis Research Laboratory is dedicated to studying how the immune system causes MS and developing treatments to control disease-causing white blood cells. Immunologists, neuroscientists and molecular biologists work together toward eventually curing MS. The laboratory is named for Donald Tykeson and his family, who helped establish the laboratory with a generous gift.
  • Westbrook Lab, led by Gary L. Westbrook, M.D., M.S.E.

Our experts publish research in leading scientific journals and other publications. Their work is widely cited by other top researchers. Highlights include:

 Find more of our published work on MS and other topics.

For patients

  • Referral: To become a patient, please ask your doctor for a referral.
  • Questions: For questions or follow-up appointments, call 503-494-7772.


Parking is free for patients and their visitors.

Center for Health & Healing Building 1, eighth floor
3303 S.W. Bond Ave.
Portland, OR 97239
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Clinical trials