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Using fruit flies to study how brain tumours develop

  • Researcher: Professor Christos Delidakis
  • Institution: FORTH Foundation for Research and Technology, Crete, Greece
  • Award Amount: £109,400 for 3 years from 1st January 2016
  • Cancer Type: Brain Cancer
Using fruit flies to study how brain tumours develop
Professor Christos Delidakis is studying how brain tumours develop, with the help of fruit flies. Contrary to common belief, insects can get cancer. In fact, with the right genetic tools researchers can create fruit fly tumours with particular defects that mimic those often found to be responsible for human cancers.

Professor Delidakis told us “We plan to use the fruit fly Drosophila to study a tumour model. The advantages of using flies are many – to name a few: easy, cheap and quick to grow in the lab, sophisticated yet exquisitely easy to use genetic tools, compact genome, great ease to isolate and image tissues under the microscope.”

He continued “When a molecular pathway called Notch is over-activated in fly brains, the brains grow to a larger size and consist of masses of cells that do not look like normal nerve cells. Although this reminds us of a brain tumour, it is not known if these enlarged brains are truly malignant. To qualify as such, they have to be able to metastasize (spread around the body) and kill the animal.

We plan to perform experiments to transplant fragments of brains with overactive Notch to healthy flies and ask whether the transplants will metastasize and kill their host.

We will also use modern genomic tools to look in great detail into the number of genes active in healthy vs tumorous brain tissue. Since the human Notch counterpart is deregulated in many cancers, including brain tumours, this research will help us gain a deeper understanding of how Notch works and how it can trigger cancer.”
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