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What is ALS and what’s being done to prevent it?

We’ve all seen the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, and many have even participated in the making of a video.

The viral Internet sensation is hard to miss with today’s many social media platforms.

We pour buckets of ice water on ourselves and then challenge our family and friends to do the same. The consequence for not taking the challenge is to donate money to the ALS Association.

We blindly follow the trendy videos and encourage others to donate to a great cause – but what do we really know about ALS?

I’ve heard people say it’s like Alzheimer’s, others say it affects your muscles, others say it’s that thing Steven Hawking has,’ others simply don’t know but donate anyway.

ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a neurodegenerative disease that affects the neurons and neuro-pathways to the brain and spinal cord. Simply put, when these motor neurons are isolated, they scar over and die. When the neurons die, the voluntary muscle movement dies with them.

As the disease progresses, victims begin to lose the ability to speak, eat, walk and sometimes even breathe without assistance. Eventually, in the final stage of ALS, the patient is paralyzed and soon dies.

ALS more often affects men than women and is usually diagnosed between the ages of 40 and 70 years of age. It is estimated 30,000 Americans are living with ALS, and an average of 5,600 people are diagnosed every day. That’s an average of 15 Americans per day.

While the Ice Bucket Challenge has raised more than $88 million so far, as of yet, there is no proven cure for ALS.

There is, however, medication that significantly helps those affected with ALS. Rilutek, one such medication, is the leading pill prescribed to patients with ALS. Rilutek slows the spread of the disease protecting the motor neurons from too much of a substance called glutamate that is thought to be a large factor in the cause of nerve damage.

It is important to note Rilutek is not a cure for ALS. And at nearly $10 a tablet, Rilutek is expensive and simply prolongs the lifespan of the patient and doesn’t necessarily improve the quality of life. There are several research studies out currently looking to isolate the gene ALS is linked to, the cause of ALS and ways to prevent and to cure the disease.

Currently, the most promising area of research is the development of cell culture systems. Scientists in this field of study have discovered ways of protracting skin cells from patients with ALS and developing them into pluripotent stem cells, or cells that have the potential to become any cell type in the body. Researchers have been able to grow the pluripotent stem cells into motor neurons, thereby giving the body more neurons and lessening the effects of ALS.

I believe a cure is not far off on the horizon and can be made a reality with your help. So next time you or someone you know is nominated for the Ice Bucket Challenge, be sure and encourage everyone to donate. Every little bit matters.

For any questions about ALS or how to get involved in the fight for a cure, visit

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