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Using fruit flies to understand how cancer begins

  • Researcher: Dr Allison Bardin
  • Institution: Institut Curie
  • Award Amount: £197,530 for 3 years from June 2013
  • Cancer Type: General Cancer Research
Using fruit flies to understand how cancer begins

Most tissues within our bodies have a small population of stem cells that can renew these tissues when old cells die. These are amazing 'starter cells' which have the unique ability to multiply and change (differentiate) into a variety of other cells, depending on where they are located in the body. The recent discovery of cancer cells with stem cell properties, known as cancer stem cells, in several types of cancer has profound implications for cancer treatments. It is thought that these cancer stem cells could be responsible for the progression, spread and reoccurrence of cancers as they seem to be able to escape death when treated with anti-cancer drugs.

Dr Allison Bardin is using her Worldwide Cancer Research grant to better understand how stem cells and tissues cope with genetic damage from environmental factors. For example, human stem cells suffer from exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun or cigarette smoke. She will also look at how the cells stop being able to repair the damage and how cancer can begin to develop. Dr Bardin will be using fruit flies for her research as the genes that control the growth and death of fly cells are almost identical to those found in human cells, making their findings highly relevant to what goes on in the human body. Since fly cells are less complicated, grow quickly and they are easier to study than human cells they enable scientists to see changes more quickly.

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