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What is ALS and the Ice Bucket Challenge?

The ice bucket challenge, social media’s latest craze, is designed to raise money and awareness for the neurodegenerative illness ALS
  • @zdboren

From Oprah Winfrey to Justin Timberlake, and Mark Zuckerberg to Bill Gates, you almost can't go on YouTube without watching the latest celebrity have freezing water tipped over them in a bid to raise millions of dollars to fight the illness ALS.

The ALS Association announced today that it has received $13.3 million in donations from over 250,000 people compared to $1.7 million during the same three-week period last year (July 29 to August 17).

In an official letter this week, the ALS Association said: “Never before have been in a better position to fuel our fight against this disease. Increased awareness and unprecedented financial support will enable us to think outside the box.” Here is the ddefinitive guide to the reason so many celebrities are stepping up to get iced.

What is ALS?

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis affects the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons degenerate and die which makes it increasingly difficult to move muscles.

When muscles aren’t used enough, they stop working. Sufferers begin to feel weak, especially in their arms, legs, and during speech, swallowing and breathing. As muscle tissue atrophies, limbs start to get smaller. In the later stages of the illness, patients may become totally paralyzed.

There is no known cause of ALS, though there is a proven hereditary factor in some cases. In about 90 per cent of cases, nobody knows how or why the illness struck. There is also no known cure, though the millions being raised by the ALS association will go towards researching these great unknowns.

In the UK the illness is often referred to as motor neurone disease (MND), and the leading organisation is the Motor Neurone Disease Association. MacMillan Cancer Support are also taking donations.

In the US it is sometimes known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, named after the all-time great baseball player from the early 20th Century whose time at the top ended when he was stricken with the illness in 1939.