Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge? The money raised funded this huge breakthrough

The viral phenomenon raised millions for the charity that contributed to the discovery of a new gene linked with the disease

Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge? The money raised funded this huge breakthrough

Picture by: Vanessa A. Alvarez / AP/Press Association Images

Money raised by the viral charity campaign, where people poured a bucket of ice water over their head, has helped researchers discover a new gene associated with ALS.

The Ice Bucket Challenge was a viral phenomenon during the summer of 2014. Essentially, people were asked to dump a bucket of ice and water on their head to promote awareness of the disease Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and encourage donations to research.

Celebrities such as Mark Zuckerberg, Lewis Hamilton, Justin Timberlake, Bill Gates and Tom Cruise even took part to spread the word.

ALS, also commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, or motor neurone disease, is a rapidly progressive fatal neurological disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.

The ALS Association raised more than €90 million following the campaign. This money contributed to an international study to sequence the genomes of at least 15,000 people with ALS.

It has led to the discovery of a new gene (NEK1) linked with ALS, which now ranks among the most common genes that contribute to the disease.

Dr Lucie Bruijn, chief scientist for the ALS Association, said:

"The discovery of NEK1 highlights the value of 'big data' in ALS research."

Dr Bruijn said the money raised by the viral campaign was vital to the project's success.

"The sophisticated gene analysis that led to this finding was only possible because of the large number of ALS samples available.

"The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge enabled the ALS Association to invest in Project MinE's work to create large biorepositories of ALS biosamples that are designed to allow exactly this kind of research and to produce exactly this kind of result."