Challenge accepted: Ice bucket edition

Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute scientists and students took the Ice Bucket Challenge, multiple times.

Gregorio Valdez an assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, studies the molecular mechanisms of neurological diseases, such as ALS. He took the Ice Bucket Challenge, along with other faculty members and students.

One, two, three! A collective shriek signaled the successful completion of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute Ice Bucket Challenge. It was the second challenge of four, followed by students from the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, and then by the school’s deans and faculty members.

Videos of the ice dumping have gone viral, with people, including celebrities and government officials, dousing themselves in icy water in the name of research to find a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, this disease is brutal. Once it starts, it results in rapid degeneration of nerves that control muscles needed to move and breathe.

The moment the ice water makes contact with the challenge-taker – the shocking cold and the inability to move, even for just a second – is meant to invoke the feeling of actually having ALS to help people understand how incapacitating it is.

Gene mutations that cause ALS have been identified, but it is unknown why these mutant genes only affect adult neurons. Much more research is needed to fully understand why nerves degenerate in ALS, which is why ALS researcher Gregorio Valdez, an assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, is so pleased with the disease’s recent attention.

“ALS is often neglected in funding, as the disease doesn’t affect as many people as some other conditions,” Valdez told WDBJ7. “But for those with ALS, the effect is debilitating. They can’t swallow. They can’t speak. It’s horrible.”

Valdez led the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute group undertaking the Ice Bucket Challenge, which included Valdez’s research team, as well as several other researchers.

“Anything that brings awareness to a disease that is often times neglected is very, very important,” said Valdez, who is also an assistant professor of biological sciences in Virginia Tech’s College of Science.

The basic rules of the Ice Bucket Challenge are that participants either donate a hundred dollars to ALS research, or they donate $10 and take the icy shower. They take a video of the experience and then nominate others to rise to the challenge.

Challenged by Valdez, Michael Friedlander, the executive director of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, chose to donate to the Valdez laboratory and take the icy plunge. Friedlander then nominated other Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute faculty members.

“ALS is a devastating disorder,” Friedlander said. “We really don’t understand how it works, and there is a tremendous need to do research to come up with a cure.”

Written by Ashley WennersHerron

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September 19, 2014
Roanoke, VA