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Fruit flies are becoming the next TBI animal model

By REGINA PALATINI | October 26, 2013

Instead of studying burly 300 pound NFL linemen, a group of researchers at the University of Wisconsin – Madison (UM) have turned to an enormously different sized individual, the common fruit fly, weighing in at a little less than one milligram.

Nature has designed the fruit fly brain to be protected by a hard shell similar to the skull that protects our own brains. Also, surprisingly, basic human nervous system functions are very similar to theirs.

David Wassarman, a member of the research team and professor of cell and regenerative biology at UM recently reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences about the accessibility of their new animal model for studying traumatic brain injuries.

When the researchers studied the results of the fruit fly’s head injuries (inflicted by a laboratory device made from instruments constructed from materials available at a local hardware store), they found that the vast majority of flies survived the initial impact, which is similar to humans.

This is basically akin to concussions, which are unfortunately rather common.

What they also found was that the effects of the injury were similar to that of humans, as well. Interestingly, they also discovered that older flies are more at risk to injury than younger ones.

Barry Ganetzky, a professor of genetics and member of the UM team expresses the hopes to be able to investigate and understand all consequences involved in traumatic brain injuries, both those in the future and at the molecular level. A crucial finding of the team is that there is a high degree of inconsistency with regard to the outcome of an injury observed when studying different strains of flies.

The UM team realizes the potential of applying the fruit fly model to study TBI and are pursuing patent protection through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF).

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