The Viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Actually Led To Discovery Towards A Cure


A year has passed since a friend tagged you in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. While scrolling through social media made the initiative seem like just a fad, soaking wet donors caused a 36 percent increase in donations—how researchers funded a new discovery in the disease.

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Scientists in the past noticed a correlation between ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) and a protein found in the brain. Until now, the function of that protein remained unclear. Jonathan Ling and his team at a John Hopkins University studied the TDP-43 protein, found mutated and dysfunctional in the brain cells of most ALS patients. Ling took to Reddit’s Science AMA Series to discuss the findings. According to research, the protein acts similarly to causes of other brain diseases, making cells sticky like gum in your hair. This comparison makes it easier to find possible therapies for the disease. So far, Ling and his team found one therapy that produces healthy cells by replacing TDP-43 with another protein. Ling says that with this method “there’s a good chance that we could slow down progression of the disease! And that’s what we’re putting all our efforts into right now.”

He credits the turnout of the Ice Bucket Challenge with helping resource his team and his optimism in finding a cure. He wrote, “I remember reading a lot of stories about people complaining that the ice bucket challenge was a waste and that scientists weren’t using the money to do research, etc. I assure you that this is absolutely false.”

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Ling hopes donations will continue to the ALS Association, and Johns Hopkins’ Division of Neuropathology and Robert Packard Center for ALS Research.