New Research Involving Fruit Flies may Change Diabetes Treatment

You may be surprised to hear that a fruit fly’s brain (something that isn’t much bigger than the period at the end of this sentence) is wired in much the same way a human brain is. In fact, some people have been downright incredulous toward this fact.

However, Erik Johnson, an associate professor in biology who has spent a lot of time studying fruit files, points out that it is not really so far-fetched. Brains perform similar actions despite what type of organism they are located in. The major difference in complexity arises from the overall number of cells.

Fruit flies have relatively simple brains with only 100,000 neurons, while human brains are much more complex with approximately 11 billion neurons. Johnson had his latest clinical study published in the October issue of Genetics, which is still available online. During the study, Johnson and his research team were studying the Drosophila fruit fly.

They wanted to get a better picture of what role the enzyme, AMP-activated kinase, has in triggering the hormone which causes the blood sugar level in the blood to elevate. These findings will play a crucial role in the development of new diabetes treatments, as well as guiding future diabetes clinical trials. According to Johnson, this should also prove beneficial for all sorts of metabolic research, like the development of new weight-loss drugs.

Jason Braco, the lead author of the article on AMP-activated kinase, is a second year graduate student from Warren, New Jersey. He has gotten used to the reactions he gets from people, when he explains that he spends a lot of his time dissecting fruit fly brains. Many are surprised that it only takes a sharp pair of tweezers. Braco became involved in Johnson’s research when he was only an undergraduate student. He has enjoyed working with Johnson, as his teacher is able to instill a deep love of science in his students.

Through his extensive work in Johnson’s lab, Braco has become hopeful regarding the potential benefits this research could bring to diabetes patients. The fruit fly has served as a great model for larger systems, allowing this research team unique insight into the human system.

According to Braco, the study of the fruit fly has established a basis for an untold number of future clinical trials in numerous different organisms. These studies could play a critical role in the development of the next treatments for diabetes and other metabolic syndromes. Johnson and his research team are currently busy investigating the rest of the hormone signaling system for the Genetics clinical study. Johnson is fairly certain that this will keep his researchers busy well into the next decade.

(See also: The Rising Cost of Diabetes)

In fact, the true complexity behind this stringent medical research process has come as a bit of a surprise to Braco. It is quite difficult to comprehend the full amount of time and energy it takes to design the experiments, produce replicate capable results, memorize the methodology, and everything else that goes into completing a clinical study of this nature. In the end, it takes a special type of person that can commit themselves to this type of work.