MS Society News  


A Promise That Spans Half A Century

NEW YORK, July 6 2000 - When her brother Bernard was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a potentially disabling disorder of the central nervous system, Sylvia Lawry refused to accept the hopeless medical verdict of "no cure or adequate treatment" for the disease. On May l, l945, she placed a one-line ad in The New York Times in an effort to find someone who had recovered from the disease. When the more than 50 replies she received were from individuals like her, desperate to find encouraging news about MS, Sylvia Lawry realized the need for an organized effort to stimulate and finance research into the
Photo of Sylvia Lawry and Bernard
Sylvia Lawry and her late brother, Bernard who had MS, in the Society' s first office at the NY Academy of Medicine

cure, treatment, and cause of multiple sclerosis. The result was that on March 11, l946, Sylvia Lawry, then in her late twenties, gathered 20 of the nation's most prominent research scientists (all male) and founded what would become the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Over the next half century, the Society has grown into an unparalleled resource on multiple sclerosis with 660,000 members. It annually devotes nearly $25 million to support more than 300 research projects around the world. Since it's founding in l946, the Society has invested over $285 million to advance MS research. The Society has also developed a 50-state network of l35 chapters and branches that offer a broad range of client services and assist more than a million people annually. Realizing that MS is a worldwide problem, Ms. Lawry went on to found the International Federation of Multiple Sclerosis Societies (IFMSS) on August 9, l967. Headquartered in London, the IFMSS now has 38 member countries.

Though Bernard's health continued to weaken, and he ultimately succumbed to MS-related causes in l973, Sylvia saw there were millions of others like her brother who also needed help. Through her efforts and those of Senator Charles Tobey of New Hampshire, whose daughter had MS, Congress was prevailed upon to adopt legislation on August l5, l950, establishing what is now the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Up to this time, government interest in MS was minimal with research expenditures totaling approximately $l4,000. Since then, government appropriations to the Institute have steadily mounted, until today they have passed the $900 million mark, $100 million of which impacts directly on multiple sclerosis.

This is a very exciting time in MS research, the FDA has already approved three medications, Betaseron®, Avonex®, and Copaxone® for those with relapsing MS. These are the first treatments to affect the underlying disease course not merely manage its symptoms. For the majority of people on the drugs, results show that there are notably fewer accumulations of MS lesions in their brains compared to those who are not on the medications and there are indications that the medications slow the progress of the disease. In addition, there are more than 70 substances currently in various stages of testing internationally. None of this would likely be happening if it were not for Sylvia.

Sylvia Lawry, founder-executive director of the National MS Society 1999

Ms. Lawry served under the title Executive Director of the National MS Society until l982. She continues to be an Officer of the National Board and is a full-time volunteer, devoting her efforts to the Society's international programs. Ms. Lawry still works a l2+ hour day to encourage new and expanded research programs and to improve services for those with MS and their families. "I can't retire," says Sylvia, "until the disease is retired."

© 2000 The National Multiple Sclerosis Society. All rights reserved.