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The University of Southampton
Biological Sciences

Could fruit flies hold the key to unlocking asthma?

Published: 15 December 2014

Researchers at the University of Southampton are to conduct a new study to unlock asthma susceptibility genes.

Over the past two decades a number of asthma genes have been identified, but their functions and how small genetic changes lead to asthma remain poorly understood.

The new study, involving scientists from the University’s Institute for Life Sciences, will use fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) as a model to assess the function of asthma genes.

Professor Donna Davies, who will lead the study, comments: “Understanding how these genes work is the key to unlocking how asthma develops in young children and will ultimately allow us to develop therapies that prevent asthma, rather than treat its symptoms.

“The fruit fly has proved to be a useful genetic tool for studying a number of human diseases including neurodegeneration, cancer, and cardiovascular disease and crucially, for our purposes, they also have branched airways (tracheae) with features similar to human airways.  We are excited about how this project can greatly accelerate our asthma research, but the real innovation is bringing together researchers with very different backgrounds to address this challenge.”

The Southampton team, which includes Drs Amrit Mudher, Jane Collins and Hans Michael Haitchi, will work with Professor Thomas Roeder from the University of Kiel in Germany.

The study is funded by The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) under the call for ‘Non-mammalian models for asthma research’, which aims to fund studies that reduces the need for animal research.

Professor Davies adds: “Flies are so quick and easy to work with so hopefully we will move forward our understanding of the disease much, much faster.”


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