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April 29, 2004
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Biologists cure Parkinson’s in fruit flies
Lords of the flies

By Deborah Inkpen

Annika Haywood and Dr. Brian Staveley.
Photo 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


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Annika Haywood and Dr. Brian Stavely
Iceberg near the Ocean Science Centre
(L-R) Cynthia Caddigan and Deirdre Cooper

Next issue: May 20, 2004

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