Thursday 29 September 2016

The Irish family of scientists behind ice bucket breakthrough

Cathal McMahon

Published 01/08/2016 | 02:30

Dáithí Ó Sé gets the ice bucket at the Rose of Tralee. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Dáithí Ó Sé gets the ice bucket at the Rose of Tralee. Photo: Steve Humphreys

An Irish family are part of the scientific team behind the ice bucket-funded breakthrough discovery in the treatment for the disease ALS.

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Last week, it was reported that scientists had identified a new gene, NEK1, that contributes to ALS - also known as motor neurone disease (MND) - and can now attempt to develop therapies to treat it.

Dr Kevin Kenna (centre) with wife Aoife and brother Brendan. Photo courtesy of Dr Kevin Kenna.
Dr Kevin Kenna (centre) with wife Aoife and brother Brendan. Photo courtesy of Dr Kevin Kenna.

The research was funded by the ice-bucket phenomenon, which exploded on social media in 2014.

The lead scientist behind last week's breakthrough is Kevin Kenna (29), from Rathfarnham, Dublin.

Kevin is joined in the team by his wife Aoife (31) and his brother Brendan (23).

The team have been working out of a collaborator's laboratory in the University of Massachusetts (UMass).

Read more: 'This would not have been possible without the ice bucket challenge' - Irish family behind disease breakthrough

Dr Kenna explained that the research would not have been possible if it had not been for all the ice-bucket challenge videos that dominated social media forums for several weeks.

The campaign raised €104m from more than 17 million people, including celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber and Amy Huberman, who filmed themselves having freezing cold water poured over their heads, before sharing the videos online.

Describing the breakthrough, Dr Kenna said: "This study represents a major step forward in ALS research. The gene we identified, NEK1, appears to contribute to approximately 3pc of ALS cases and provides new clues about what exactly is going wrong when the disease occurs and how it might be treated."

Although Dr Kenna is the lead author on the study, he explained that it was a very large international project involving the active collaboration of over 90 researchers from 12 countries, including Ireland.

He added: "Unfortunately, genetic research is expensive and this work would not have been possible without the funds raised by the ALS ice-bucket challenge."

Dr Kenna did his undergraduate study in UCD and his PhD in Trinity.

Irish Independent

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