The Ice Bucket Challenge has raised more than $100 million for research into Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS.
It’s an always fatal disease, attacking the body’s nervous system and robbing patients of their ability to walk, talk, and eventually breathe on their own.
Major research on ALS is happening right here in Georgia, at Emory University’s ALS Center.
The center’s director, Dr. Jonathan Glass, says one possible treatment involves injecting millions of stem cells into the spinal cords of patients.
In the first phase of the trial, 15 patients received stem cell injections-first in the lower spinal cord (which has neurons that affect the function of the legs) and then in the upper spinal cord (which has neurons that affect breathing function).
Many clinical trials include a “control” group of patients, who receive a placebo. Dr. Glass says that’s not the case with the stem cell trial at Emory, since ALS is disease that is universally fatal. “It’s probably not ethical to put someone through a major surgery, then give them a placebo,” he says. Instead, Dr. Glass and his team are working with biostatisticians to predict how patients would fare without the stem cell treatments.
In the second phase, another 15 patients received an increased number of injections and cells per injection. While the stem cells can’t generate new nerve tissue, researchers hope the treatment will protect neurons and slow the progression of ALS. Phase II of the trial is now complete. After the results are released, Dr. Glass and his colleagues will move into the third phase of the stem cell trial.
As for the Ice Bucket Challenge, Dr. Glass says it could lead to a new way of funding scientific research.
“Say ‘here’s a problem, we need 100 million dollars to solve it. Let’s throw ice over our head and raise it.’ That would be really cool, but only time will tell if that happens.”
The Georgia chapter of the ALS Association says it’s seen a fundraising bump from the challenge. Since July 29, the group has raised around $445,000, compared to $110,000 in the same period last year.