Fruit Flies and Neurodegenerative Diseases

Neurodegenerative diseases are those that cause the brain to deteriorate and stop functioning properly - such as Huntington's, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease for the famous baseball player who had it). Nancy Bonini is a HHMI (Howard Hughes Medical Institute) scientist who creates models of these diseases in fruit flies in order to understand how they work and, more importantly, how to fight back against the brain deterioration. Check out the videos below to learn more about this cutting edge and essential research!

Effect of ALS on Fruit Flies


ALS is a disease in humans in which the nerve cells waste away or die. Eventually, this leads to an inability to move arms, legs, and eventually any muscle in the body (causing an inability to even breathe on one's own. As you can see by the video, the disease has the same effect on fruit flies. As their nerve cells die, they are no longer able to fly or move their limbs properly. Using these fruit fly models, scientists like Nancy Bonini were able to discover important proteins involved in the disease. This brings us one step closer towards treating ALS patients!

Fruit Flies and Alzheimer's/Dementia


You might now be thinking along the lines of, "wait, what?". But what the scientists were explaining is that genes - and therefore the proteins - that are essential for maintenence of the brain in humans are also present in flies. Because of this, scientists are able to introduce mutant or "toxic" genes and proteins (the same ones that are mutated in humans with Alzheimer's disease) into flies. Then, once flies have the disease, they are able to use molecular and genetic techniques to see what other genes and processes are involved in the disease. Over the long term, they will be able to hypothesize new ways to slow or stop diseases like Alzheimers in humans.

Citations

  1. www.hhmi.org - check out the link to learn more!