ice bucket challenge

Remember those heady days back in the summer of 2014 when everyone was dumping buckets of ice water over their heads to support ALS research? The Ice Bucket Challenge was taken up by everyone from ex-presidents to football stars; the ALS Association received an additional $100 million in donations thanks to the challenge. But the challenge also faced critics, who argued that the viral movement was more about, well, virality than actually making any substantial change. Those critics may be feeling a little silly now that a Johns Hopkins team says that those donations were crucial to helping them make a breakthrough in understanding the terminal disease.

“Without [the Ice Bucket Challenge], we wouldn’t have been able to come out with the studies as quickly as we did,” said Philip Wong, a Johns Hopkins pathologist. “The funding from the ice bucket is just a component of the whole—in part, it facilitated our effort.” Another scientist involved with the research wrote on Reddit that the funds raised by the challenge enabled researchers to go forward with “high risk, high reward” experiments.

While the story of crowd-sourced donations leading to a scientific breakthrough is heart-warming, it’s also important to remember that the majority of research funding doesn’t come from viral trends like the Ice Bucket Challenge, but rather from places like the National Institutes of Health–which, incidentally, are calling our current moment the worst financial environment for biomedical research in half a century.