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Research on fruit flies opens up possibilities for human treatments

Madison, Wis. - The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported on Monday that researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory have cured fruit flies of the genetic disorder Huntington's disease.

The study, authored by researchers including UW-Madison molecular geneticist Jerry Yin and UW-Madison assistant scientist Eric Drier, said that by elevating levels of the proteins CREB and HSP-70 in Drosophilia fruit flies they were able to eliminate the disease completely.

These proteins exist in all human cells as well and are typically shut down in victims of HD, which causes uncontrollable movements, slurred speech and altered thought patterns. According to the Huntington's Disease Society of America, affected parents have a 50 percent chance to pass it to children.

Yin said in a UW-Madison release that this research proves the need to come up with a broader reach of treatments for treating genetic disorders. By targeting a combination of proteins and genetic pathways, it may be possible to locate the defective genes and stop the disease at each stage.

While the fruit flies are far simpler than humans, Yin said this research may help reveal a common "superhighway" where genes converge across species. Yin added it will likely be a long search to find this superhighway, but discovering it through additional experiments could help reveal faults in the genetic structure that cause conditions such as epilepsy and Fragile X syndrome.
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"I think the history of scientific discovery teaches us that we can't predict anything," Yin said in the release. "So we just have to play all the cards we can possibly play."

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