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Fruit fly's beating heart helps identify human heart disease genes

In a discovery that could greatly accelerate the search for genetic causes of heart disease, a multi-disciplinary Duke University research team has found that the common fruit fly can serve as a powerful new model for testing human genes implicated in heart disease.

The finding is important, the Duke team said, because the entire genome of the fruit fly is well understood and catalogued, enabling researchers to systemically screen genes to identify potential gene mutations or variants implicated in human heart disease. The achievement also raises the possible of rapid screening in fruit flies of drugs to treat heart disease, said the researchers.

The team's bioengineers adapted an existing imaging technology to visualize in detail for the first time the beating of the heart of a fruit fly, an insect the size of a grain of rice. The fly's heart is about the size of the period at the end of this sentence.

After perfecting the new visualization technique, the researchers inserted into the fly genome a mutated gene that causes dilated cardiomyopathy in humans. This condition is often the cause of heart failure in humans and is characterized by heart muscle that has greatly enlarged and therefore is unable to pump blood efficiently. The moving images revealed that fly heart looked and acted just like a human heart with the same condition.

"The difficulty in performing studies to find specific genes that cause disease in humans is that you need large families with members afflicted with the disease," said Matthew J. Wolf, M.D., Ph.D., Duke Medical Center cardiology fellow and first author of paper appearing Jan. 23, 2006, in the Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "This can be a quite a complex and laborious undertaking. Even in mouse models of human disease, the process of screening for genes can take a long time.

"However, fruit flies, with their well-documented genome and rapid life-cycle, have t
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Contact: Richard Merritt
Merri006@mc.duke.edu
919-684-4148
Duke University Medical Center
23-Jan-2006


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