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Two years after millions of people dumped ice over their heads, the money they raised for the nerve disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) has funded a new discovery. Scientists used donations from the ice bucket challenge to identify a new gene associated with ALS called NEK1. Variations of this gene are involved in three percent of ALS cases, the team reported Monday in Nature Genetics.

Some of the $100 million-plus in donations from the Ice Bucket Challenge (the viral video-fueled awareness campaign for ALS, aka Lou Gehrig's Disease) fully funded Project MinE, a medical research effort that just identified a gene linked with some ALS cases.

Yes, that clip you shared with your Facebook friends may have given scientists the cash they needed to finish their work -- in this case, sequencing the genomes of 15,000 people with ALS to help pinpoint relevant genes.

NEK1 helps nerve cells maintain their shape and repairs DNA, among other roles. When any of these cellular functions are thrown off kilter, people have an increased risk of ALS. The NEK1 discovery was found through an ALS Association effort called Project MinE, which sequences the genomes of 15,000 global citizens who have the disease.

ALS, which causes people to gradually lose control of their muscles, can be either hereditary or appear in people with no family history. The new research indicates that NEK1 can play a role in both forms of the disease, and offers a target for new treatments.

It's important not to oversell the impact of the Ice Bucket Challenge. Some of those donations came from ALS Association state chapters, for one thing. Moreover, there was a real concern that the original awareness message got lost in the shuffle. While there's no question that the fundraising was wildly successful, there were likely some who didn't realize that it was connected to ALS at all -- the internet's tendency to dilute information might have worked against the campaign. On the balance, though, the discovery stands as proof that the buzz created by social networks can accomplish great things.

Source: TheGuardian,

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