Ooh, that’s cold.
Students on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites could not have missed the droves of people pouring buckets of ice water on their heads this past month in an unprecedented effort to raise funds and awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Donations to the ALS Association have topped $100 million since the Ice Bucket Challenge began, and they just keep coming.
At the end of August, the University’s A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute accepted the challenge, as Neurology Prof. Eva Feldman, director of the Institute and a long-time leader of ALS research, took the plunge.
ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that affects the motor neurons of the brain and spinal cord. According to the ALS Association, the disease affects roughly 30,000 Americans at any given time. Currently, there is no known method of reversing or stopping the progression of the disease. Having worked with ALS for more than 25 years, Feldman said it was natural that she would participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge.
“ALS is our passion, and to make an ALS free world is our passion,” Feldman said. “We’re very excited about participating, donating and getting other individuals to participate and become more aware of the disease.”
The Institute’s challenge video is posted on their website and has put a twist on the original challenge by using beakers rather than buckets. In the video, Feldman challenges other ALS scientists to take up the Ice “Beaker” Challenge as well. Feldman also instigated an Ice Bucket Billionaire Challenge, directed at philanthropist Alfred Taubman, the man for whom the Institute is named. Taubman, who is 90 years old, accepted the challenge, recognizing the groundbreaking work done at his namesake.
Feldman said she is happy to donate to the ALS Association, as the organization has supported both the Institute’s ALS clinic and its stem cell research. She said she expects the money to fast-track therapies to treat the disease.
“It’s an extremely interesting and important event that’s occurred,” Feldman said. “Who knew that a bucket of ice on your head could result eventually in $100 million dollars to address in a very novel way this horrible disease?”
Some of the money could eventually be awarded to the University. Feldman said her lab already has several ideas for new projects concerning ALS they would like funding for, and they are also looking to further advance their stem cell studies.
“They may put out a call for distributing the money,” Feldman said. “We will be there, and we hope to be first in line.”
The Institute has already benefited from the challenge, as Feldman said donations have increased in the past month. Additionally, as of Aug. 25, the Michigan Chapter of the ALS Association had generated roughly $50,000 in donations as a result of the challenge. ALS of Michigan focuses on clinical care, contrasting the national organization, which focuses on both research and care.
“What that will mean for our clinic and other clinics are more dollars for clinical care, which is very important,” Feldman said.
Feldman addressed the critics who have pushed back against the Ice Bucket Challenge, who argue that the challenge is funneling dollars into ALS research that could have been directed at other, more common diseases. She said the Ice Bucket Challenge shows the public is receptive to donating to biomedical research, and opens the doorway for other activists to gain money for disorders through social media.
“I think that really what the Ice Bucket Challenge can do for the other disorders is lay the gauntlet down,” Feldman said. “What can be the next social media way in which those disorders can raise new money for biomedical research and clinical trials?”