Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Ice Bucket Challenge funding helped find the gene responsible for ALS

Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge? In the summer of 2014, thousands participated in the viral video craze, dumping cold water on their heads to raise awareness and funds for ALS research.

Some critics dismissed it as "slacktivism," but it really worked.

The New York Daily News reports the Ice Bucket Challenge is credited with funding an important breakthrough in ALS research. UMass Medical School's Project MinE recently discovered the gene that causes amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the neurodegenerative disorder also known as "Lou Gehrig's Disease," thanks to a $1 million donation from the ALS Association's Ice Bucket Challenge funds.

"The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge enabled us to secure funding from new sources in new parts of the world," Bernard Muller, founder of Project MinE and ALS patient, said in a statement. "This transatlantic collaboration supports our global gene hunt to identify the genetic drivers of ALS."

The BBC reports the gene has been identified as NEK1, which scientists can now study to develop treatments for both familial and sporadic ALS. The disease, which sees 5,000 diagnoses each year in the U.S., affects the nerve cells of the brain and spine, causing patients to lose voluntary muscle movement.

ALS currently has no cure, but research projects received more funding than ever in 2014 when more than $100 million was raised in a 30-day period from the Ice Bucket Challenge. The stunt required participants to dump a bucket of ice water over their head and post the video on social media, then challenge friends and family members to do the same within 24 hours -- or donate money to charity.

Many participants braved the freezing water and donated money. Celebrities ranging from Tom Cruise and Mark Zuckerberg to Ellen DeGeneres and Taylor Swift joined in the cause, encouraging fans to help.

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