"If there is a mutation in a gene that causes a disease in the fruit fly, then there is a very good chance that there is a corresponding gene in humans," Rockman said. "It is an enormous breakthrough to demonstrate that a human gene can induce disease in a fly. With this novel fruit fly model, we can now screen genes we believe are involved in human heart disease and test them in the fly model."
If a candidate human gene leads to the same physiological effects in the fly as it does in humans, researchers can then not only test different compounds or drugs, but do so much quicker than in other mammal models of disease.
"These findings have the potential to change the way we do genetic screening to identify candidate disease-causing genes," Rockman continued. "Never before have we been able to actually visualize in the fruit fly the actual physiologic changes caused by dilated cardiomyopathy."
The Duke team is currently screening the entire genome of the fruit fly for additional candidate genes involved with dilated cardiomyopathy, a process which should take another six to nine months.
"We are now screening the entire fruit fly genome gene by gene, and determining whether the removal of the gene or a mutated version results in heart failure in the fly," Wolf explained. "With this new model, we can rapidly correlate abnormal heart functioning with a specific gene mutation."