Ice Bucket Challenge

Some members of CBC Montreal were recently nominated for the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness and money for research into ALS. (CBC)

It began as a competitive pursuit among professional golfers to draw awareness to ALS. Now the "Ice Bucket Challenge" has swept North American social media and is translating into millions of dollars in new donations to battle the disease.

The ALS Association said Monday it has received $15.6 million in donations since July 29, an eight-fold spike over the $1.8 million donated during the same period last year. 

The association said this summer's donations have come from existing donors as well as more than 300,000 new donors.

"Without a doubt, the popularity of the Ice Bucket Challenge … has encouraged tens of thousands of Americans not only to douse themselves with ice water but also to open their pocketbooks and to donate to the fight against ALS," the president and CEO of the association, Barbara J. Newhouse, said in an online post Saturday. 

Here's how it works: Participants videotape themselves dumping a bucket of ice water over their heads, post the video online and challenge three others to do the same within 24 hours, or make a $100 US donation to ALS.

The campaign has inspired some of the biggest names in business, sports and Hollywood to take part with their own daring versions, including Microsoft founder Bill Gates, NBA superstar Lebron James and Oprah Winfrey. NHL player Paul Bissonette went one step further, hiring a helicopter to douse him with glacier water while wearing a Speedo.

The star power has triggered a national phenomenon. The term "Ice Bucket Challenge" was mentioned 2.2 million times on Twitter between June 1 and Aug. 13. According to Facebook, videos of the trend have reached 1.2 million.

Also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis  is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. There is no cure and only one medicine to slow its progress has been approved.