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Fruit flies soar as lab model, drug screen for the deadliest of human brain cancers
Date:2/12/2009

LA JOLLA, CAFruit flies and humans share most of their genes, including 70 percent of all known human disease genes. Taking advantage of this remarkable evolutionary conservation, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies transformed the fruit fly into a laboratory model for an innovative study of gliomas, the most common malignant brain tumors.

"Gliomas are a devastating disease but we still know very little about the underlying disease process," explains John B. Thomas, Ph.D., a professor in the Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory and senior author of the study, which is published in the current edition of the Public Library of Science Genetics. "We can now use the power of Drosophila genetics to uncover genes that drive these tumors and identify novel therapeutic targets, which will speed up the development of effective drugs."

Better models for research into human gliomas are urgently needed. Last year alone, about 21,000 people in this country were diagnosed with brain and nervous system cancers, Senator Edward M. Kennedy the most famous among them. About 77 percent of malignant brain tumors are gliomas and their prognosis is usually bleak. While they rarely spread to elsewhere in the body, cancerous glial cells quickly infiltrate the brain and grow rapidly, which renders them largely incurable even with current therapies.

Gliomas originate in brain cells known as "glia" and are categorized into subtypes based on how aggressive they appear, with glioblastoma being the most common and most aggressive form of glioma. Their diversity is mirrored by the number of different signaling pathways involved in the generation of these tumors, yet aggressive gliomas all seem to have one thing in common: Most, if not all human glioblastomas carry mutations that activate the EGFR-Ras and PI-3K signaling pathways. Such mutations are also thought to play a key role in developing drug resistance.

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Contact: Gina Kirchweger
kirchweger@salk.edu
858-453-4100 x1340
Salk Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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