Two summers ago, all of our social media news feeds were blowing up with people dumping buckets of ice water over their heads. The ALS ice bucket challenge had gone viral, and literally everyone was doing it. While the ALS ice bucket challenge was fun and entertaining, it was also raising money for researching cures for the disease. This thing that took over social media two years ago has now fueled a new genetic discovery.
ALS stands for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and is a neurodegenerative disease. The ALS association defines it as "a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. A-myo-trophic comes from the Greek language. 'A' means no, 'Myo' refers to muscle and 'Trophic' means nourishment — 'no muscle nourishment.' When a muscle has no nourishment, it "atrophies" or wastes away. 'Lateral' identifies the areas in a person's spinal cord where portions of the nerve cells that signal and control the muscles are located. As this area degenerates, it leads to scarring or hardening ('sclerosis') in the region."
The ALS ice bucket challenge raised millions of dollars, which went to fund many different projects. $1 million went to a project done at the University of Massachusetts, led by Dr. John Landers. Dr. Landers and his team discovered the gene that causes the neurodegenerative disease. The gene has been identified as NEK1. Now that the specific gene has been discovered, it will be easier to find treatments and possible cures for the disease.
Dr. Lucie Bruijin, Chief Scientist at the ALS Association states, "The sophisticated gene analysis that led to this finding was only possible because of the large number of ALS samples available. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge enabled The ALS Association to invest in Project MinE's work to create large biorepositories of ALS biosamples that are designed to allow exactly this kind of research and to produce exactly this kind of result."
Without the donations obtained from the ALS ice bucket challenge, this genetic discovery would not have been possible. This is a perfect example of the way social media should be used for. People suffering from ALS are one step closer to finding a cure so that they can live a better life.
More research needs to be done so that a cure can be found. If you would like to donate, please visit http://www.alsa.org/donate/.