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Viral Ice Bucket Challenge May Have Resulted In ALS Breakthrough

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Scientists at Johns Hopkins announced that they have achieved a major breakthrough in their research on the debilitating condition known amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which they said was made possible through donations from Ice Bucket Challenge participants.

According to the ALS Association, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative illness that severely impacts the nerve cells in the human body, particularly those located in the spinal cord and the brain. It involves the gradual deterioration of an individual's motor neurons, which leads to their eventual demise.

Once these motor neurons begin die, the brain begins to lose its ability to initiate and control the movement of muscles as well. People diagnosed with ALS often suffer from the loss of certain motor skills, including the ability to move, eat, speak and even breathe.

In 2014, medical research on ALS received much publicity after the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which was started to raise awareness about the disease, became viral on social and mainstream media.

The charity campaign asks participants to make a donation to different ALS research organizations such as the ALS Association for those living in the United States and the Motor Neurone Disease Association for those living in the United Kingdom. Challengers are then asked to pour a bucket filled with ice water on their heads while being filmed, after which they are to nominate another person to do the same.

Donations made through the Ice Bucket Challenge reached more than $220 million in only a year, providing funding for ALS research including one that was conducted by Johns Hopkins scientists.

"Without it, we wouldn't have been able to come out with the studies as quickly as we did," Johns Hopkins researcher Philip Wong said. "The funding from the ice bucket is just a component of the whole - in part, it facilitated our effort."

The latest ALS study, which is featured in the journal Science, Wong and his colleagues examined the role of a protein known as TDP-43 in the development of ALS through the use of mice cells. They observed how TDP-43 tend to break down and become seemingly sticky, which made it difficult for the researchers to read the DNA properly until the mice cells eventually die.

When the team introduced a different protein that was designed to replicate TDP-43 into the neurons, the mice cells returned to normal. This observation suggests that a treatment could be made capable of slowing down or even stopping the ALS from developing.

The researchers said that their next step would be to carry out further studies in order to determine if the substitute protein to TDP-43 could be used to treat mice with ALS as an entire organism instead of merely their cells.

They would then conduct clinical trials on humans if the experiments prove to be successful. These trials are already funded by donations made through the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

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