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  • What Do Fruit Flies Have to Do with Curing Cancer?

    What Do Fruit Flies Have to Do with Curing Cancer?

    It’s been more than a century since the American Cancer Society was originally established by a select group of businessmen and physicians in New York City. The Society had been founded in order to help raise awareness for cancer– a commitment they keep to this day.

    The National Cancer Act was passed less than six decades later. It was a pivotal piece of health legislation, and many believe that it started the “War on Cancer”. This is a battle that we find ourselves in the thick of today.

    Looking for Cure in Unconventional Places

    As a whole, cancer currently ranks as the number two killer in the United Statesclaiming the lives of 600,000 people each year. Regular readers of this blog know that with the variety of cancers out there, the reality is much more complex.

    Cancer research holds the key to developing better therapies for these deadly diseases. We have witnessed some incredible breakthroughs in recent years— but a cure still eludes our best and brightest. So where do we turn next in our search for a cure? The answer it seems could come from a very unconventional source: fruit flies.

    What’s That Buzzing Sound?

    Fruit flies are commonly found buzzing around homes in the warmer months. These annoying bugs are in constant search of food and a place to nest, and their preferred favorite is over-ripe or rotting fruits and vegetables. They may only live for a week, but they can lay more than 500 eggs in their lifetime.

    People have spent years focused on how to prevent or dispose of these unwanted house guests. This latest research may have some people changing their minds about the humble fruit fly. It would seem that they do provide a benefit, especially in regards to fighting cancer.

    A Super Sense of Smell

    An article published in Scientific Report last month explained how fruit flies are capable of distinguishing between cancer cells and healthy cells using their acute sense of smell. Additionally, these studies show that they can distinguish between different types of cancer cells.

    (Quick Fact: Researchers are also training dogs to use their sense of smell to detect early stage cancers.)

    Researchers theorize that they could use the fruit flies’ sensitive olfactory receptors to develop better pre-screening tools that could identify cancers much earlier than contemporary techniques. Of course, this is not the only reason that fruit flies are garnering so much attention from cancer researchers.

    Check out this video from CBS:

    The Key to Finding a Cure for Cancer

    Renowned fruit fly geneticist, Ross Cagan, and his team are working on a theory that seems like something straight out of science fiction. They are creating genetic copies of malignant tumors in the very fruit flies themselves. This allows them to test the efficiency of experimental cancer cocktails on the tumor. Using genetic models that closely match a patient’s tumor lets the team produce more potent concoctions of FDA-approved drugs— including some that are designed to kill cancer cells and others that aren’t.

    The early results from this radical approach are promising. In fact, Cagan’s team have already started testing one of these manufactured cocktails on a cancer patient. The three-drug concoction completely removed the cancer from the patient’s genetically matched fruit fly.

    Cagan and his colleagues have a one track mind when it comes to their groundbreaking research. “We don’t really care what’s driving the tumor; we just care what stops it,” he explained.

    His research team recently founded the Center for Personalized Cancer Therapeutics at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York. They all firmly believe that these fruit flies hold the key to finding a comprehensive cure, and what’s more, that special day is rapidly approaching.