fruit fly_TBI_studyBarry Ganetzky, PhD, a professor of genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison), conducted research that reveals the first glimpses of the genetic underpinnings of susceptibility to brain injuries and links to human traumatic brain injury (TBI). Ganetzky began with an observation from almost 40 years ago that a sharp strike to a vial of fruit flies left them temporarily stunned, but the flies recovered a short time later. According to a news release from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, there is a poor understanding of the underlying medical causes of TBI.

Ganetzky states, “Unlike many important medical problems… where we know something about the biology, we know almost nothing about TBI. Why does a blow to the head cause epilepsy? Or how does it lead down the road to neurodegeneration? Nobody has answers to those questions — in part, because it’s really hard to study in humans.” As such, the research involved fruit flies because the basic mechanisms affecting nervous system function are the same in flies and mammals, and the fly brain is encased in something similar to a skull.

Ganetzky and fellow UW professor David Wassarman describe a way in the new study to reproducibly inflict traumas that seem to mimic the injuries and symptoms of human TBI, according to the UW-Madison news release. Wassarman says, “Now we have a system where we can look at the variables that are the inputs into TBI and determine the relative contributions of each to the pathological outcomes.”

With the model, the researchers say they can draw on the vast collection of genetic tools and techniques available for fruit flies to explore the underlying drivers of damage. Ganetzky states, “What we really want is to understand the immediate and long term consequences in cellular and molecular terms. From that understanding we can proceed in a more directed way to diagnostics and therapeutics.”

Jennifer Gottwald, licensing manager of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), says, “The use of this model can accelerate the work of the medical research community in finding treatments and therapies to help patient.”

Source:  the University of Wisconsin-Madison