September 6, 2007 - Using an imaging technique called optical projection tomography (OPT), originally developed at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Human Genetics Unit based in London, England, MRC scientists have generated startling 3D images of the inside of a fruit fly for the first time, possibly helping to speed up genetic research into Alzheimer's and other human diseases that affect brain cells.
Dr. Mary O'Connell of the MRC Human Genetics Unit who led the research explained: ''Neurodegeneration, the gradual loss of function of brain cells that occurs in Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and motor neurone diseases, isn't a strictly human phenomenon. Insects are affected by it too. In the autumn, bees and wasps often develop erratic behaviour before they die.''
Because the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) and humans share many genes with similar functions, the fly is widely used by genetic researchers to study how genes influence human disease.
''It's already known that defects in the equivalent fly genes involved in human brain diseases cause brain cells in fruit flies to lose function as they age,'' Dr O'Connell continued.
OPT could help researchers to look at how the fly brain changes in response to alterations in the normal activity of a specific gene without the risk of damaging tissue through dissection.
For more information: www.mrc.ac.uk