September 3, 2015

ALS researchers at UMass Medical get ‘Ice Bucket’ funds

Two groups of scientists at the University of Massachusetts Medical School have each received $1 million in grant money raised during last summer's viral Ice Bucket Challenge campaign, funds that will support ALS research projects that the school's chancellor on Wednesday called "pivotal work."

Medical School Chancellor Michael Collins said the money from the ALS Association comes at a time when the federal government has stepped back its own research funding, requiring faculty members to devote more of their time to writing grant proposals.

"The resolve that they have and the effort that they put into this is really spectacular," Collins said of his school's researchers during a meeting of the UMass Committee on Academic and Student Affairs.

In one of the ALS efforts, researchers will compare the DNA of 15,000 ALS patients with that of 7,500 people who do not have the disease, which causes nerve cells to die and leads to paralysis.

In the other, scientists are working with mice to block genes that trigger the death of the animals' nerve cells.

"It's not a cure, but in time, if you could silence this gene in a mouse, perhaps you could silence the gene in a human," Collins said.

There is no existing cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, and its cause is unknown. Last year's Ice Bucket Challenge generated $115 million, about $77 million of which the ALS Association said it will allocate toward research.

Collins said that as awareness of ALS grows, more people are seeking treatment from UMass doctors.

"We receive calls from all across the world to come to our institute to be seen," Collins said. "I field many of the calls myself."

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