ByMark Newton, writer at
Movie Pilot Associate Editor. Email: [email protected]
Mark Newton

Last year, I am almost certain your Facebook feed was consistently drenched in videos of friends and celebrities alike pouring ice cold water over themselves in the name of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis - better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease.

Although the social media phenomenon was sometimes criticized as pure "slacktivism," it appears the Ice Bucker Challenge may have actually had some tangible and beneficial results.

Researchers from the John Hopkins medical institute are claiming the influx of money generated by the Ice Bucket Challenge has allowed them to conduct ground-breaking research into the origins, effects and a possible cure for ALS.

The Ice Bucket Challenge, which reached its peak around summer last year, generated more than $220 million for a cause which usually only raises $2.8 million a year. This allowed Phillip Wong, a professor at Johns Hopkins who led the research team, to conduct expensive "high risk, high reward" research. Professor Wong stated:

"Without it, we wouldn't have been able to come out with the studies as quickly as we did. The funding from the ice bucket is just a component of the whole — in part, it facilitated our effort... The money came at a critical time when we needed it."

You can watch a supercut of the 50 best celebrity Ice Bucket Challenges below:

The groundbreaking research involved a protein called TDP-43 and its interaction with cells in the brain. Previous research had suggested ALS patients had 'clumps' of protein that amassed around the nuclei of the cells. This TDP-43 is then unable to read the DNA of the cell properly, resulting in the brain cell dying within several days. If this becomes widespread enough, ALS sufferers will begin to lose motor functions and will eventually die.

Professor Wong's research involved inserting a special protein which is designed to mimic TDP-43. When this was injected into damaged cells, they were restored and 'came back to normal.' So far the results have only been in specific experiments conducted on mice cells. Wong suggests the next stage is to see whether it can also be turned into a therapeutic model which could treat mice as a whole organism. After this they would conduct human trials.

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Despite engendering a huge reaction and campaign, ALS is a relatively rare disease with currently inflicts 15,000 Americans. However, it has an extremely high mortality rate with death often being slow, drawn out and extremely uncomfortable.

Some critics have suggested the massive success of the Ice Bucket Challenge may have in fact resulted in "funding cannibalism" which diverted resources away from other charities and causes. Wong denies this, claiming there is no finite 'pie' of charity money. He also adds the findings of the ALS team could also be applied to Alzheimer's disease, muscular dystrophy, and inclusion body myositis.

Source: WashingtonPost


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