Much of the research MDA supports is what is termed “basic” research: research investigating the fundamental biological processes of nerves, muscles and what goes awry to cause disease. Much of this research is not aimed at one specific disease, but can apply to many neuromuscular diseases. Projects at this stage, for example, may initially seek answers about a muscular dystrophy, but ultimately lead to a therapy for ALS. This is how MDA’s broad coverage of diseases can be so powerful. Basic research that results in the identification of a therapeutic target might also be called "discovery research."
MDA funds basic research primarily through "research grants," which are three year projects designed to answer specific questions. These may be held either by academic researchers or by companies doing the earliest stages of drug discovery. Development grants are training grants for senior post-doctoral researchers seeking to establish themselves as premier neuromuscular researchers. Many research grants go to researchers who started out with development grants, and past development grantees have gone on to become leaders in the neuromuscular research community.