Making Sense of MS Research

Summaries of independent,
high-quality research about multiple sclerosis treatments

Frequently Asked Questions

Where does the treatment summary information come from?

We have based our treatment summaries on systematic reviews, produced by the Cochrane Collaboration. The Cochrane Collaboration is recognised as a world leader in the production of independent, high-quality research about health care.

What is the Cochrane Collaboration?

The Cochrane Collaboration is an international, non–profit organisation that produces systematic reviews about health care treatments. Its goal is to help patients, their carers and advocates, health care practitioners and policy makers make informed decisions about health care. It does not accept funding from commercial or conflicting sources and most of its work is produced by a network of over 28,000 volunteer researchers and health professionals. This allows the Collaboration to produce authoritative and independent information. Its systematic reviews are available in Australia, and many other countries, for free and online at The Cochrane Library.

View the full list of Cochrane reviews about MS treatments (and select the ‘Full list’ tab).

Where can I access the original studies?

Every treatment summary provides a link to the full Cochrane review. In the review you will find a list of the original studies they included in their review.

Who undertakes Cochrane systematic reviews?

Cochrane systematic reviews are undertaken by teams of volunteers around the world. They might be researchers, health professionals or others with an interest in the area. Every Cochrane author must disclose if they have a conflict of interest on their review topic and list the source of any funding they have received in their work. The Cochrane Collaboration does not accept funding from commercial sources.

Who decides on the topics for a Cochrane review?

Cochrane reviews on MS treatment are coordinated by the Cochrane Multiple Sclerosis and Rare Diseases of the Central Nervous System Review Group based in Milan, Italy.

They select the topics for MS reviews based on three factors:

  1. how important they are to people with MS, health professionals and policy makers
  2. the number of studies that have been conducted
  3. the expertise of the volunteer author team
How often are the Cochrane reviews and treatment summaries reviewed? Are they out of date?

Cochrane reviews should be updated every two years. In practice, this is not always possible but they still provide valuable information. Our treatment summaries are based on the latest version of the Cochrane review. In every treatment summary we tell you

  • when the Cochrane review was conducted
  • if we know of any more studies that have been conducted on this topic and
  • if we can consider the information up to date.
Why don’t the treatment summaries always give a clear answer?

Cochrane systematic reviews only include the highest quality studies (usually randomised controlled trials) about MS treatments. So while it means we can have increased confidence in the results, sometimes there are not enough high-quality studies yet to give a clear answer.

While this can be frustrating, we believe this is better than making decisions about treatments using poor quality studies, which can provide less accurate results. Over time, as more studies are conducted, the answer may become increasingly clear.

Why might these results look different from what I have seen elsewhere?

There can be a number of different reasons for this, including:

  • Cochrane Collaboration researchers may analyse the results of the studies in different ways from the original study authors. They do this if they think this will provide a more accurate estimate of how well the treatment works. This may lead to more conservative findings.
  • Usually, Cochrane reviews only include the highest quality research. High-quality research tends to provide more conservative estimates of how well a treatment works. Less rigorously designed studies may overestimate the effectiveness of treatments.
  • There are ways of presenting statistics that look more or less convincing. We have tried to present the results in an understandable and accurate way that does not overstate their effect.
  • It is also important to note that health professionals and MS Australia base their advice about MS treatments on a range of research. Cochrane reviews rely on information collected in clinical studies, often randomised controlled trials. This doesn’t always give a complete picture about treatments. For example, long term follow up studies are needed to suggest how well MS treatments work over 10 or 20 years, or to learn about side-effects.

Please remember, that the results presented here are only one piece of the information jigsaw that you might need to make a decision.

If you would like to discuss the results presented on this website please contact your local MS Australia office or your health professional.

Why are there no treatment summaries about the latest therapies (like Gilenya®) or experimental therapies (like stem cells)?

Our treatment summaries are based on Cochrane reviews and the Cochrane reviews are based on the results of multiple randomised controlled trials. RCTs can take many years to complete. With some new or experimental treatments there may not have been any randomised controlled trials conducted to review.

What is meant by the term evidence?

Evidence about the effects of multiple sclerosis (MS) treatments can mean different things to different people. Many people consider the clinical experience and advice of their health professionals as evidence. Some people prefer to rely on the experiences or opinions of others with MS, or that of their family and friends. Others consider their own experiences as the most important evidence of whether a treatment works for them. When we talk about evidence here, we are talking about evidence that comes from scientific research. But scientific research can be well conducted or poorly conducted. And different types of research studies are useful for different things.

To learn more about randomised controlled trials (RCTs), systematic reviews, observational and long term follow up studies check out the glossary and FAQ pages.