Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

If you’ve ever needed proof of the power that viral campaigns on social media can hold, then look no further than the Ice Bucket Challenge. The viral #ALSIceBucketChallenge that dominated throughout the summer of 2014 truly made a difference. The funds raised through the challenge have helped lead to the discovery of a new gene, which could help develop a treatment for Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The ALS Association announced that a research team, part of Project MinE, identified a new ALS gene, called NEK1. The gene is one of the common that contributes to ALS, according to the press release. Project MinE received $1 million in funding from the ALS Association in October 2014, which was funded through donations from the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Project MinE’s Bernard Muller, who has ALS, said in the press release, “The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge enabled us to secure funding from new sources in new parts of the world. Thankfully, The ALS Association brought Project MinE to the United States. This transatlantic collaboration supports our global gene hunt to identify the genetic drivers of ALS. I’m incredibly pleased with the discovery of the NEK1 gene adding another step towards our ultimate goal, eradicating this disease from the face of the earth.”

The variant was found in three percent of all ALS patients, according to the paper published in Nature Genetics. The DNA samples had been previously stored because of the costs associated with the research. But the success of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge provided $115 million in donations, a huge step in funding important research projects.

One of the lead researchers, John Landers of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, acknowledged the collaboration of scientists that made the discovery of the new gene variants possible. “It is a prime example of the success that can come from the combined efforts of so many people, all dedicated to finding the causes of ALS,” Landers said in a UMassMedNow article. “This kind of collaborative study is, more and more, where the field is headed.”

The ALS Ice Bucket Challange gained immense popularity when former Boston College baseball captain Pete Frates, who also has ALS, was challenged to pour that bucket of ice water over his head. Diagnosed at 27 years old, Frates nominated his friends to do the challenge for his charity, Team FrateTrain. As the saying goes, the rest is history.

In a matter of weeks, over $4 million was raised through the challenge and celebrities even began taking the social media phenomenon to heart. Some of the most notable celebrity challenges throughout the campaign included the Foo Fighters, who dumped the ice water over their head in a scene straight out of “Carrie;” Charlie Sheen, who dumped a bucket of money over his head; and Bill Gates, who devised a creative solution to dump gallons of water on himself. ALS patient Anthony Carbajal also challenged people to “Kiss My ALS,” in a video that illustrated the reality that those who suffer from the disease face every day.

Frates even took to Twitter after the announcement was made to provide his thoughts on the gene discovery. His parents also expressed their gratitude and acknowledged the long road ahead in trying to develop a treatment. “We’re so grateful for what everyone did because now it’s bearing fruit,” Frates’ mother Nancy explained to CBS Boston.

Now that the power of the movement has been proven, the ALS Association is seeking to raise awareness and funds once again next month. The new campaign, titled Every Drop Adds Up, demonstrates what can happen when people make it their goal to effect change and shows the contributions that add up from the simple actions of each individual person.

The campaign, says the ALS Association, “pays homage to the Ice Bucket Challenge, visually emphasizes the now iconic ‘bucket,’ and builds on the idea that when people come together they can make big, impossible things happen.”

Will you be participating in the new campaign to help find a cure for ALS?