It was only a year ago, but it seems like forever since we saw celebrities and our friends and family dumping icy cold water on their heads (not just with buckets, but with tubs, a bulldozer and even a helicopter). It seemed like silly fun at the time, but it was all for a good cause: ALS research.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, affects 15,000 Americans and kills roughly 7,000 a year. It has no known cure and no known causes. ALS causes slurred speech, muscle spasms, and can affect the ability to move muscles needed for basic functioning, like eating and breathing. Most patients die within a few years of diagnosis.
Let's check in one year later to see whether the Ice Bucket Challenge has done any good.
Turns out, it's done really well. After $220 million dollars in donations were received, scientists at Johns Hopkins are telling of major breakthroughs in ALS research, in part, thanks to all of the public interest.
"Without it, we wouldn't have been able to come out with the studies as quickly as we did," said Philip Wong, a professor at Johns Hopkins who led the research team. "The funding from the ice bucket is just a component of the whole — in part, it facilitated our effort."
With the money, Wong and his team were able to begin "high-risk, high-reward experiments" and discovered some very important elements of ALS.
The main element they studied is called TDP-43, which, when inserted into neurons, cause cells to come back to life and return to normal. This revelation could mean that scientists and doctors could soon be able to slow down or completely stop the disease.
We won't know for sure until trials are completed, but now, the next step is to conduct more experiments, probably on mice, then move on to human trials.
Better yet, Wong argues that other diseases that affect a much larger number of people, such as Alzheimer's, muscular dystrophy and inclusion body myositis, could also benefit from this research.