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Glenn Nichols, surrounded by his hospice team. The author is in yellow.

Genetic Linkage

Animal Research Saves Lives: A Blast From My Fruit Fly Past

March 9, 2012

Tags: animal research, PETA, Ricki Lewis, #dros2012, The Forever Fix: Gene Therapy and the Boy Who Saved It, Drosophila Research Conference

Gene therapy gave vision to Corey Haas. (photo: Dr. Wendy Josephs)
Chicago – I left fruit fly research circa 1982, shortly after earning my PhD in genetics, because I didn’t think insects with legs growing out of their heads was of much import to human health.

Although I went on to a rewarding career as a writer, I quickly learned that I was wrong about the (more…)

Fruit Flies Bring Good News to Huntington's Disease Families

June 2, 2011

Tags: Huntington's disease, animal research, PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, fruit flies, Drosophila, KMO, animal models, American Physiological Society, Huntington's Disease Society of America, HDSA, Cure Huntington's Disease Initiative, CHDI

I’m a big supporter of animal research, but I usually keep such studies out of my textbooks, because too many times what’s true for a mouse turns out not to be true for a person. But the news from Flav Giorgini and colleagues at the University of Leicester, University of Maryland School of Medicine, and Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco is hard to ignore – and it isn’t even in mice, but my old pals fruit flies.

The science is straightforward: blocking production of an enzyme called KMO, either by knocking out its gene or feeding flies drug-laced goop, enables flies with a version of Huntington’s disease to move more normally. HD is the neurodegenerative disease that struck Woody Guthrie, causing uncontrollable, dancelike movements. Dr. Giorgini discovered the connection to KMO in yeast in 2005, using resistance against cell death as a sign, since yeast are not known to dance. And the next step is obvious – try KMO inhibitors in people. The enzyme is also implicated in Alzheimer’s disease, ALS, AIDS dementia, and a host of other common conditions.

This fly/KMO study is a perfect example of the value of animal research. And so I went onto the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals website to see what they had to say about the value of fruit fly research. Flies are, after all, animals. I found only an outdated blog comment about a PETA-provided bug catcher, which one would presumably use to escort errant cockroaches outside. The main page featured, as usual, the adorable – dogs, monkeys, and lions – and if you search a bit, the occasional mistreated turkey or lobster. The Bambi factor is at work - protect the furry.

I'm relieved. As a former Drosophila geneticist and author of fly porn, I personally murdered millions of the little beasts, heartlessly drowning them in vats of mineral oil, or exploding their innards when I drank too much coffee before injecting them. Since then, I've lived in fear of attack by Alicia Silverstone. I guess I can keep my American Physiological Society “I’m Alive! Thanks to Animal Research!” tee shirt.

"The Sighted Leading the Sighted"

August 3, 2010

Tags: gene therapy, blindness, animal research, University of Pennsylvania, Foundation for Retinal Research

Normally a 9-year-old boy cavorting with a big, shaggy dog isn’t anything unusual, but when Corey Haas grabbed the leash of 1-year-old Mercury last Saturday, it was a stunning sight. For both Corey and Mercury, a briard sheepdog, were born with the exact same form of hereditary blindness, Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA). And (more…)

instruction
Project to engage students in helping families with rare genetic diseases
Book Club Reader's Guide
Many challenging questions to stimulate thought and discussion.
Instructor's Guide
38 discussion questions to get students thinking and talking about gene therapy, including the science, ethical issues, and the drug approval process.
Narrative science
The Forever Fix is the uplifting true story of 8-year-old Corey Haas, who was cured of hereditary blindness just 4 days after gene therapy.
College Textbooks
A spectacularly-illustrated, clearly written human anatomy and physiology textbook, used in pre-health profession programs throughout the U.S.
A highly engaging, clearly written, beautifully illustrated introduction to the science of human genetics for the non-scientist. Now in its 11th edition, 12th to be published in September 2018.
Nonfiction
An ideal starting point for anyone who wants to know more about genes, DNA, genomes, and the genetic ties that bind us all.

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