Can the common fruit fly (Drosophila) provide a better understanding into how Alzheimer's disease affects the human brain? In a single word: Yes.
Just ask Matt Riccetti, a biology major, who is working in the lab of Amit Singh, associate professor of biology.
"We are taking the human Alzheimer's protein and introducing it to the Drosophila's eye," Riccetti explained. "The eye is made up of a number of photoreceptor neurons that show similar reactions to that of the human brain. We can then monitor the degradation of these neurons due to the introduction of the Alzheimer’s protein, which exhibits the effects and degradation that occurs in a human brain with the Alzheimer's disease."
"I wholeheartedly believe that no one creates opportunities for undergraduate research the way UD does."
Once their lab gains a better understanding of the pathology of the disease and the way it affects the brain, they will look for either other proteins or drugs that will target the disease state.
This type of research is useful because flies are very quick to reproduce and share 70 percent of disease-related genes with humans. Once the lab identifies possible solutions and treatments for the disease, it is their goal to have their research used in future clinical trials and other related programs.
Riccetti said the research he has done in Singh's lab has given him a new passion – not to mention top honors. Riccetti was one of seven undergraduates across North America to earn the prestigious Victoria Finnerty undergraduate travel award and attended the 58th Drosophila Research Conference, an international meeting that brings together Drosophila geneticists for intense discussion about their cutting-edge research and its impact on human health.
"This is an incredible award and honor both for Matt and for Dr. Singh's lab," said Mark Nielsen, Department of Biology chair. "The Drosophila Research Conference is one of the largest international science meetings and for Matt to win this award shows the quality of Dr. Singh’s lab and the ability that he has to raise young people into science research. I wholeheartedly believe that no one creates opportunities for undergraduate research the way UD does, which is due to the culture of our department, the passion of our faculty and ultimately the passion of our students."