Health

Holy Crap, the Ice Bucket Challenge Actually Led to a Huge Breakthrough

Published On 07/27/2016 Published On 07/27/2016

Oh, the summer of 2014 -- what a time to be alive. It seems like only yesterday authentic rap goddess Iggy Azalea had two major hits on the radio, Sharknado got the sequel it rightfully deserved, and your Facebook news feed was clogged with endless videos of the Ice Bucket Challenge.

The social media stunt asked people to either donate money for ALS research, or dump a bucket of ice on your head (and also still donate to charity because what are you, a monster?), then challenge three friends to do it. So many people got in on the action, including Chris Pratt, Lebron JamesMartha Stewart, and every single other celebrity alive. 

If you were confused/annoyed at the time -- why were people assaulting each other with freezing water instead of just writing a check to charity? -- it turns out that so much ice and Facebook shares actually helped create a scientific breakthrough. The campaign ended up raising $115 million for the ALS Association. Two years later, scientists have used some of that money to discover a new gene, NEK1, which contributes to the disease.

The research, performed by Project MinE, is the largest study ever conducted on people who inherit ALS. So the ice bucket challenge raised money and awareness; more than 80 researchers in 11 countries looked for people with an ALS family history who could potentially carry the gene. This discovery will help scientists understand the disease better, with the goal of developing gene treatment therapies. 

There's no official data to confirm this, but this may be the first time a viral stunt has had a long-lasting positive impact. Now, if only people could be so enthusiastic about donating money to disease research without clogging your social media feeds...

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Christina Stiehl is a health and fitness staff writer for Thrillist. She's a curmudgeon who was ice bucket challenged by her 10-month-old niece, and declined. She donated directly to The ALS Association instead. Follow her on Twitter: @ChristinaStiehl.

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