Do you still remember the Ice Bucket Challenge of 2014 that “broke the internet” as the meme goes? Would you happen to know why it was being performed then? As a refresher the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was thought up to promote awareness of the debilitating disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, as well as to encourage donations to non-profit organizations that provide funding for research on the illness and services to patients who have them. It was wacky enough back in the day even when you knew it was for. But three years have passed since then, and wouldn’t you know it? The challenge worked!
The American ALS Association shared some breaking news Monday June 25 on their website that one of their research efforts funded by Ice Bucket Challenge donations, Project Min E, has successfully identified a new gene that counts among several others involved in the onset of ALS, better known in America as Lou Gehrig’s Disease and in the UK as Motor Neurone Syndrome. In fact, the N EK1 gene has been flagged as one of the ALS’s most common contributors. This discovery has become a new target of researchers in developing therapy for ALS and one more step towards the ultimate goal: a cure.
ALS Association Chief Scientist Dr. Lucie Bruijin remarks that the painstaking gene analysis became possible thanks to a large supply of cell samples from ALS victims. Of the Ice Bucket Challenge, she says it enabled The ALS Association to invest in Project Min E's work to create large bio-repositories of ALS bio-samples that are designed to allow exactly this kind of research and to produce exactly this kind of result."
Believe it or not, this breakthrough is actually the third such success in ALS-related studies that had been funded by Ice Bucket Challenge donations. Even better, the project leader that found the latest culprit gene is also an ALS sufferer.
The original ALS Ice Bucket Challenge became a social media juggernaut when it was popularized by celebrity challengers. Millions of net surfers tuned online to catch streaming videos of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, pop god Justin Timberlake, Bill Gates, NBA’s Steph Curry, former president George W. Bush, and even Oprah getting buckets of ice water dumped over their heads. Another famous figure in on the act – technically – was big-name scientist and long-time ALS sufferer Stephen Hawking. While ineligible for the cold shower due to a bout with pneumonia, his three children were all to game to take the ice for him.
In just eight weeks of 2013, the Ice Bucket Challenge saw $115 million donated by participants and fans to the ALS Association, with many others going to similar organizations. While it drew its fair share of criticism, supporters saw in it a fresh campaign to raise funds and encourage activism to find a solution to one of the world’s most complex illnesses.