Celeb ‘stunt’ aids disease breakthrough

File photo dated 22/8/2014 of Jockey Frankie Dettori and presenter Clare Balding take part in the 'Ice Bucket Challenge' at York Racecourse, York

File photo dated 22/8/2014 of Jockey Frankie Dettori and presenter Clare Balding take part in the 'Ice Bucket Challenge' at York Racecourse, York

Celebrities who doused themselves with freezing cold water for charity have helped scientists make a discovery that could help sufferers of motor neurone disease.

The “Ice Bucket Challenge” went viral in 2014 as scores of famous figures including Tom Cruise, Ruth Langsford, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Beckham, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift posted videos showing them getting a chilly drenching.

Despite being dismissed in some quarters as a pointless stunt, the campaign raised $115m (£87.7m) and funded six research projects.

One of them has now led to the discovery of a new gene linked to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as motor neurone disease – the devastating progressive brain condition suffered by top physicist Professor Stephen Hawking.

Defective variants of the gene, NEK1, are only found in three per cent of ALS sufferers but are present in both inherited forms of the disease and “sporadic” cases without any family connection.

Scientists believe the gene could guide them to the development of potential new treatments.

The Project MinE study, which produced the discovery, was funded by US charity the ALS Association using money from the Ice Bucket Challenge.

More than 80 scientists from 11 countries identified NEK1 after se arching for ALS risk genes in more than 1,000 affected families and 13,000 individuals with the “sporadic” form of the disease.

Their results were published in the journal, Nature Genetics.

Dr John Landers, from the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, US, who co-led the study, said: “Global collaboration among scientists, which was really made possible by ALS Ice Bucket Challenge donations, led to this important discovery.”