“You might think of them as a pest but actually they are a remarkable tool in science,” said Vicki Losick, an MDI Biological Laboratory scientist.
Losick was recently awarded the William Procter Scientific Innovation Fund that comes with $50,000 for research. She already has discovered that as people age or get sick, their cells no longer divide in healing, instead they balloon into extra-large cells.
These extra-large cells are present with age-related macular degeneration, which affects 11 million Americans.
“We're trying to really figure out what triggers cells to make these extra-large polypoid cells,” Losick said, standing in her lab.
This is where fruit flies come into the picture.
“Many of the changes, degenerative changes, that occur in retinal diseases, like macular degeneration, also occur in the fruit fly,” Losick said.
“The advantage of the fruit fly is these cellular degeneration changes that occur, occur within weeks in the fruit fly where they take decades in us to occur,” she added.
Using fruit flies, “We can very quickly identify genes that are important in preventing these changes” with the hopes to someday find ways to prevent polyploids or slow their growth.
The MDI lab also has hundreds of aquatic salamanders, thousands of zebrafish and other animals they use for study.
“We love having them here and studying them because they are amazing at regenerating pretty much anything in their body -- brain, heart any of their limbs can regenerate,” Karlee Markovich, MDI Biological Laboratory animal resources coordinator, said of the salamanders.
“We have the same capabilities, but they're dormant,” Markovich added. “So with these guys we can look at them and say, 'How can we turn that on?'”
Unlocking these keys and finding new approaches to regenerative medicine is the goal of the lab.