What flies can tell us about Alzheimer's

Alzheimers Flies are cheap to house and breed rapidly.

Dr Damian Crowther, Miss Kerri Kinghorn, Dr Elena Miranda, Mr Richard Page and Professor David Lomas, Cambridge Institute for Medical Research.
Mr John Curry, Merck Sharp and Dohme.

Although the fruit fly has been used to study genetics for 100 years, it is only recently that the fly has become an important tool in the battle against disease. Medical researchers around the world are now working to create fruit flies that develop human diseases so that they can study the genes involved and test the effectiveness of new drugs. 'Some of the first diseases that have been modelled in the fruit fly are those that affect the human brain', says Damian Crowther of the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research. The Cambridge group, led by David Lomas, is among the first to develop a fruit fly model of Alzheimer's disease, the most common cause of dementia. 'Our fruit fly shows many of the signs of Alzheimer's disease that are found in human patients', says Damian.

The Cambridge group has followed up on previous work showing that people who produce too much of a toxic peptide (the Aß peptide) in their brains go on to develop Alzheimer's disease. 'We gave the fly the gene for the Aß peptide, and they accumulate peptide just like human patients', explains Damian. The team of scientists can watch the fly brain deteriorate in the same way that the human brain is damaged by Alzheimer's disease.

'Flies are cheap to house and breed rapidly this means that experiments that would not be possible in any other organism can be done in a matter of weeks', says David. The team is now using the power of genetics in the fruit fly to find out which genes are involved in Alzheimer's disease. 'When we find the culprit gene in the fly there is a good chance that the same gene will be involved in the human brain in fact 70% of genes in the fly are the same in the human', continues David.

The team feels that this research has a special urgency because the population is ageing and the number of people who are losing their memory and ment