A group of researchers have identified a gene implicated in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a disease that attacks neurons in the brain and spinal cord. They identified the gene using funds from the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which raised $115 million to benefit research on the disorder — which may mean Bill Gates got doused in freezing water for more than entertainment value.
The finding only applies to cases of ALS that are passed down through families; these are the minority of ALS cases, accounting for only 10 percent of patients.
The mutant gene NEK1 that the scientists identified was observed in 3 percent of ALS cases
The group, from University of Massachusetts Medical School's Project MinE, used the genomes of more than 1,000 people with ALS who had a family member who was also made ill by the disease; they were compared to the genomes of more than 7,300 controls. The mutant gene NEK1 that the scientists identified was observed in 3 percent of ALS cases, the scientists wrote. It appears to be involved in a lot of functions in the body, including DNA-damage responses and the shape and structure of nerves.
Though the gene isn’t responsible for most cases of ALS, it may provide clues for scientists who are struggling to figure out its mechanism — just as the original finding of the APOE gene’s involvement in Alzheimer’s disease clued scientists in to the role that a protein called beta-amyloid plays in the mind-robbing illness.
The Ice Bucket Challenge, which swept across the internet from mid-July through August 2014, was a social media phenomenon started to raise awareness for ALS that gained popularity in large part because of the huge number of celebrities that participated. From Jimmy Fallon to Homer Simpson to Bill Gates, celebrities took to social media to share videos of their attempts. Even Donald Trump took the opportunity to douse himself in, of course, Trump-brand bottled water: