Will Ice Bucket Challenges Speed Up An ALS Cure?
Donations to ALS Association have spiked over the last three weeks
Aug. 18, 2014
The Indianapolis Colts' quarterbacks take the Ice Bucket Challenge (image courtesy of Twitter)
Donations to research for Lou Gehrig's Disease have spiked over the past month thanks to the Ice Bucket Challenge.
Hundreds of thousands of videos have been made across the country of people dumping buckets of ice water over their heads and challenging others to do so. Those who don't accept the challenge are supposed to make a donation to the ALS Association, though many people do both. The association says it has received more than $13 million in donations since July 29, almost ten times the amount it took in during the same time period last year.
A neurologist hopes this money will lead to more treatment, as research has been painfully slow into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and what causes it. "The nerve cells that control your muscles are damaged and quit working," said Dr. Mike Sermersheim with JWM Neurology in Indianapolis. "Over two to five years, you lose more and more muscle function, and that's all muscle function including arms, legs, throat and mouth and breathing muscles." ALS is rare, affecting around 30,000 Americans at any given time, Sermersheim said.
Most people associate ALS with baseball Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig. But between the time Gehrig died in 1942 and now, Sermersheim says researchers have only made modest progress in knowing what causes ALS, much less in finding a cure. "Symptomatic treatment, keeping people alive is much more effective, using external ventilators or medication to delay progression, but we really have no treatment for the underlying process," Sermershiem said. That isn't to say there isn't some good news. "One promising line of research is looking at some of the same chemicals that cause some of the dementias being present in these cells in your spinal cord (that might lead to ALS)."
Sermersheim is hopeful, especially since researchers now have more tools to look into the genetic link to the disease. "They didn't know what the cytoarchitecture (of ALS) was even when I was in medical school to the degree we have now because we could not measure it, especially in living people," Sermersheim said. While the Ice Bucket Challenges may be fun, the money it is raising will be used up quickly. "Research is hugely expensive, and it is not going to have an immediate payoff. But the more we have to work with, the faster we can get people going."