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The Ice Bucket Challenge Led to a Major Breakthrough in ALS Research

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AFGE via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Thanks to the ALS Association, the summer of 2014 will be forever associated with videos of people pouring freezing water over their heads. While some criticized the "Ice Bucket Challenge" as a classic example of "slacktivism," or just another annoying trend clogging their newsfeeds, the numbers can’t be denied: the challenge's 17 million participants ended up raising over $220 million for ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) research. The organization says it was likely the single largest episode of giving outside of a disaster event. 

And now, one year later, scientists at Johns Hopkins are crediting a major breakthrough in ALS research to the viral fundraiser. According to researcher Jonathan Ling, the millions of dollars donated has given him and his colleagues the financial freedom to pursue “high risk, high reward” experiments. This time, their risks seem to have paid off.

The breakthrough discovery deals with the mysterious TDP-43, a protein that can be found clumped outside the nuclei of brain cells of patients with ALS. In a study published last week, the protein was found to break down in mice and become incapable of properly decoding the DNA it was meant to. This caused the cells to die within a few days. 

When researchers then introduced a protein designed to mimic TDP-43 into the neurons, cells came back to life and were fully restored. This was an incredible breakthrough for the field, as treatment could have the potential to slow down or even stop effects of the disease, which is currently incurable.

The next step is to create a therapeutic model to treat mice as whole organisms rather than just treating their cells. After that, researchers will hopefully be ready to move forward to clinical trials on people. 

After last year’s success, the ALS Association intends to make the Ice Bucket Challenge a yearly occurrence to fund more groundbreaking research in the future. If a month’s worth of unwanted video tags does indeed become an annual fixture, just remind yourself that it's all making a difference.

[h/t: The Washington Post]

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Medicine
Why Haven't We Cured Cancer Yet?
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Walkathons, fundraisers, and ribbon-shaped bumper stickers raise research dollars and boost spirits, but cancer—the dreaded disease that affects more than 14 million people and their families at any given time—still remains bereft of a cure.

Why? For starters, cancer isn't just one disease—it's more than 100 of them, with different causes. This makes it impossible to treat each one using a one-size-fits-all method. Secondly, scientists use lab-grown cell lines cultivated from human tumors to develop cancer therapies. Living masses are far more complex, so potential treatments that show promise in lab experiments often don't work on cancer patients. As for the tumors themselves, they're prone to tiny genetic mutations, so just one growth might contain multiple types of cancer cells, and even unique sub-clones of tumors. These distinct entities might not respond the same way, or at all, to the same drug.

These are just a few of the challenges that cancer researchers face—but the good news is that they're working to beat all of them, as this TED-Ed video explains below.

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Health
Skipping Breakfast Could Be Bad for Your Heart
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There are mountains of evidence supporting the claim that breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. Getting something in your stomach in the first hours of the morning can regulate your glucose levels, improve your cognition, and keep your hunger in check. Now new research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology points to another reason not to wait until lunchtime to break last night’s fast. As TIME reports, people who skip breakfast are at an increased risk for atherosclerosis, a disease caused by plaque buildup in the arteries.

Researchers surveyed over 4000 men and women between the ages of 40 and 54 living in Spain. After looking at the dietary habits of each participant, they broke them into three groups: people who consumed more than 20 percent of their daily calories in the morning; those who got 5 to 20 percent; and those who ate less than 5 percent.

The subjects who ate very little in the a.m. hours or skipped breakfast all together were 2.5 more likely to have generalized atherosclerosis. This meant that plaque was starting to collect on the walls of their arteries, hardening and narrowing them and increasing the risk for heart attack or stroke. People who fell into the 5 to 20 percent calorie category were also more likely to show early signs of the disease, while those who ate the most calories in the morning were the healthiest.

These results aren’t entirely surprising. Previous studies have shown a connection between skipping breakfast and health problems like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and unwanted weight gain. A possible explanation for this trend could be that waiting several hours after waking up to eat your first meal of the day could trigger hormonal imbalances. The time between getting into and out of bed is the longest most of us go without eating, and our bodies expect us to consume some calories to help kickstart our energy for the day (drinking straight coffee doesn’t cut it). Another theory is that people who don’t eat in the morning are so hungry by the time lunch rolls around that they overcompensate for those missing calories, which is why skipping breakfast doesn’t make sense as a diet strategy.

But of course there are many breakfast skippers who aren’t motivated by health reasons either way: They just don’t think they have the time or energy to feed themselves in the morning before walking out the door. If this describes you, here are some simple, protein-packed meals you can prepare the night before.

[h/t TIME]

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