Why I took the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Like thousands of individuals around the world, I took the Ice Bucket Challenge last week.

You might wonder why I took the challenge given that my focus at the National MS Society is to find solutions for people with multiple sclerosis. MS is a completely different disease, after all. 

I had two reasons for taking the challenge – One personal and one scientific. 

The personal reason is that I was challenged by my friend and blogger, Trevis Gleason (check out his challenge video here). Once Trevis laid down the challenge, I knew it was just a matter of time before I was getting wet and donating to the ALS Association (my charity of choice for this campaign).

The scientific reason is that I want to support ALS research because of the solutions it could bring for both ALS and MS. Yes, that’s right, there is indeed a connection between ALS and MS, beyond the fact that the two diseases affect the brain. 

It turns out that in both MS and ALS, oligodendrocytes – the cells responsible for producing myelin – are damaged.  While the way these cells are damaged differs in ALS and MS, both diseases share a common problem, and finding solutions to this is the focus of about a third of the Society’s research portfolio, including a collaborative research project we’re funding at Johns Hopkins University. 

With Society funding, MS researchers, Drs. Peter Calabresi and Katherine Whartenby have teamed up with ALS researchers, Drs. Dwight Bergles and Jeffrey Rothstein, to bring their respective expertise to understand how oligodendrocytes are damaged in ALS and MS, and to use this information to find treatments that can prevent this damage and pave the way for nervous system repair. Read more about efforts to repair the nervous system.

This collaboration is just one example of how researchers across the world are working together to find solutions for people with MS and other brain diseases. That’s why I took the challenge, and that’s why I challenge National MS Society volunteers, Joe Piper and John Bjornson and international colleagues Dr. Karen Lee (MS Society of Canada), and Luke Thomas (MS International Federation)! You can check out my video here, and see my friend Trevis do the honors.

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Timothy Coetzee, PhD

Dr. Timothy Coetzee, National MS Society Chief Advocacy, Services and Research Officer, has been a leader in the pursuit of innovative ways to move us closer to a world free of MS since receiving his PhD in microbiology and immunology in 1993.