Viral ice bucket challenge credited with funding ALS breakthrough

The social media craze that had millions of people dumping buckets of freezing water over their heads in the name of ALS raised enough money to lead to an important breakthrough in research.
Former NBA star Yao Ming taking part in the ALS ice bucket challenge in Beijing on Aug 23, 2014.
Former NBA star Yao Ming taking part in the ALS ice bucket challenge in Beijing on Aug 23, 2014.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Ice Bucket Challenge that went viral two years ago, raising hundreds of millions of dollars, has helped identify a new gene behind the neurodegenerative disease ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, researchers say.

The challenge involved people pouring ice-cold water over their heads, posting video on social media, and donating funds for research on the condition, whose sufferers include British physicist Stephen Hawking.

Celebrities including Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian, Ellen DeGeneres, Benedict Cumberbatch and former US President George W. Bush were among millions of people who took part in 2014, attracting more than 400 million views on social media.

The challenge raised US$220 million (S$300 million) worldwide, according to the Washington-based ALS Association. News of the gene discovery again sent Ice Bucket Challenge viral, proving one of the top trending topics on Twitter on Wednesday (July 27).

The money funded the largest ever study of inherited ALS and identified a new gene, NEK1, that ranks among the most common genes that contribute to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the ALS Association said in a statement on Monday.

 

"Global collaboration among scientists, which was really made possible by ALS Ice Bucket Challenge donations, led to this important discovery," said John Landers of the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Landers and Jan Veldink of University Medical Center Utrecht led the study involving researchers in 11 countries.

"It is a prime example of the success that can come from the combined efforts of so many people, all dedicated to finding the causes of ALS," Landers said in a statement.

The research was published in the scientific journal Nature Genetics this week and scientists hope it will provide another potential target for therapy development.