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The ice bucket challenge just paid off big time

Well done everyone

The ice bucket challenge just paid off big time

Benedict Cumberbatch did it. Bill Gates did it. Then, in the short space of the summer of 2014, your mum, dad, Aunty Pat and some guy you'd not spoken to since 2003 were all posting their own Ice Bucket Challenge videos on Facebook, inviting people to douse themselves in cold water in return for a charitable donation. 

Many scoffed, some even mocked, but the viral charity phenomena has just scored a huge victory: research funded by the Ice Bucket Challenge has helped scientists discover a gene that directly contributes to motor neurone disease (referred to as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in the US). 

What is motor neurone disease?

Motor neurone disease (MND) is a progressive disease that attacks the motor neurones, or nerves, in the brain and spinal cord. The MND Association describes it as "a life-changing illness" that can "affect how you walk, talk, eat, drink and breathe."

MND can gradually take over an individual's life, impacting neurones and weakening muscle groups over the course of an individual's life, gradually taking away more of their body's functions. Sir Stephen Hawking is possibly the best-known individual to suffer from the disease. 

What have researchers discovered?

Research by Project MinE, published in the science journal Nature, has helped identify NEK1 - a gene present three per cent in those suffering from MND.

Discovered by researchers in the Netherlands and the United States as part of the largest research project into MND, the discovery of the NEK1 gene and its link to MND is of huge importance to establishing gene therapy to treat the disease. 

How did the Ice Bucket Challenge help?

Project MinE, the international research project behind the discovery, claims that the research wouldn't have been able to go ahead without funds from the Ice Bucket Challenge.

"Global collaboration among scientists, which was really made possible by ALS Ice Bucket Challenge donations, led to this important discovery," said Dr. John Landers, the leader of Project MinE.

"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. This kind of collaborative study is, more and more, where the field is headed."

More research is needed to understand the relationship between the gene and MND, but it's got the scientific community pretty excited. They should probably have a cold shower or something...