Depending on the source, ALS affects anywhere from 350,000 to 400,000 people worldwide. As far as neurodegenerative disorders go, ALS is not on the same level of Parkinson’s that affects some 10 million people worldwide. Regardless, it’s still a fatal disease from which many people suffer.
However, not everyone was thrilled about the Ice Bucket Challenge, for various reasons. Well, whatever about all that because you know what else the Ice Bucket Challenge has led to? Scientific breakthroughs —breakthroughs that would not have happened as quickly had the global community not raised over $220 million for ALS research. Let’s first put that money into perspective.
Last year, between July 29 to August 29, the challenge raised just over $100 million for the ALS Association. During the same period in 2013, the association raised under $3 million. With its new influx of cash, the association quickly doled out $10 million to ALS Accelerated Therapeutics; $5 million to Neuro Collaborative; $2.5 million to the New York Genome Center; and $1 million to Project MinE. The money also supported research at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, allowing investigators to study novel “high risk/high reward” experiments that led to a major ALS breakthrough.
Scientists at Hopkins discovered how the TDP-43, a transcriptional repressor that decodes DNA, can break down leaving it unable to properly read DNA cells. Now, thanks in part to that Ice Bucket money, scientists have discovered a protein that is designed to mimic TDP-43 and help cells return to normal. This is of course a dumbed down description of TDP-43 and its related research. But since we aren’t biological researchers, the descriptor will have to do.
What’s important to know here is that TDP-43 is the major disease protein in ALS and other neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s. The discovery of a protein that mimics TDP-43s job means that there is hope that these proteins could be used to stop the progression of ALS or at the very least, more effectively treat the disease.