By Deborah Inkpen
by Chris Hammond
Annika Haywood and Dr. Brian Staveley.
While Memorial University biologists, Dr. Brian Staveley and
Annika Haywood didn’t run from their lab in St. John’s
yelling when they made their amazing discovery, they did have
a “eureka moment” thanks to the diminutive fruit
fly, or Drosophila
. Dr. Staveley and Ms. Haywood
have cured Parkinson’s disease in fruit flies. Their
recent publication, Parkin Counteracts Symptoms in a Drosophila
Model of Parkinson’s Disease, is the result of three
years intense research using fruit flies as the subjects for
their research into the operation of cells.
Parkinson’s disease destroys the neurons in the part
of the brain responsible for controlling the movement of muscles
and affects more than one per cent of the population over
60 years of age. The disease results in the loss of motor
control, resting tremor, the formation of neuronal inclusions
and ultimately premature death.
While attending Massey University in New Zealand, grad student
Ms. Haywood read a paper in Nature describing how Dr. Mel
Feany had made a model of Parkinson’s disease in fruit
flies by over-expressing a gene known to be involved.
“The fruit flies lost their climbing ability and neurons
started to die off earlier. Other symptoms of Parkinson’s
disease were found as well,” said Ms. Haywood. The article
sparked her interest, she contacted Dr. Staveley and moved
to Canada to begin work on genes that are altered in neuro-degenerative
diseases like Parkinson’s disease.
“In our lab we use a combination of genetics, molecular
biology, bioinformatics, behavioural tests and biochemistry
to figure out how life and death works at the cellular level,”
said Dr. Staveley. “Mostly, we are interested in genes
that cause cells to survive.”
Their discovery has implications for humans suffering from
the disease and Haywood and Staveley hope medical researchers
will take their work and develop a model curing it in humans.
The paper is published by BioMed Central, an independent on-line
publishing house for peer-reviewed biomedical research. For
more information on their paper and BioMed Central visit www.biomedcentral.com/home/