(Photo: Getty Images For Paramount International, Dimitrios Kambouris)

As reported by Variety, SpongeBob SquarePants creator Stephen Hillenburg has announced that heā€™s been diagnosed with ALS. A source says that he received the diagnosis early and is still in the early stages of the neurodegenerative disease, and Hillenburg confirmed it in a statement that also says heā€™ll continue to work on the show for as long as he can:

I wanted people to hear directly from me that I have been diagnosed with ALS. Anyone who knows me knows that I will continue to work on SpongeBob SquarePants and my other passions for as long as I am able. My family and I are grateful for the outpouring of love and support. We ask that our sincere request for privacy be honored during this time.

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Variety explains that Hillenburg used to be a marine biology teacher who adapted his love for the ocean into one of Nickelodeonā€™s most popular animated shows of all time. SpongeBob has been on the air since 1999, and Hillenburg recently returned to the series as an executive producer after spending a decade away from Bikini Bottom. He also directed The SpongeBob SquarePants movie in 2004.