Could Fruit Fly Research Results Increase Survival for Cancer Patients?

Scientists from the University of California, Berkeley have followed fruit flies with tumors to find out if something besides the critical damage to organs, can cause the death of patients.

The Woman Post | Catalina Mejía Pizano

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The results suggest that the tumors can release chemicals that shorten the lifespan of flies. Could blocking these chemicals improve the survival rate of fruit flies?

Although the experience of fruitflies dying from cancer could be distant from that of humans with severe tumors, scientists from the University of Berkeley are on their way to investigating possible ways to improve the life expectancy of cancer patients.

The mainstream goal of medicine regarding cancer has been eliminating the tumor or the cancerous cells. But, what if science made a shift to destroy or block the harmful chemicals that cancer throws off? According to David Bilder, who is a professor at UC Berkeley for molecular and cell biology, this approach is unique and complementary since “you are trying to help the host deal with the effects of the tumor, rather than killing the tumor itself.”

As confirmed by scientists such as Jung Kim (a postdoctoral fellow in Bilder's lab), and UC Berkeley Professors Raoulet and Saijo, tumors in mice and rats excrete the sane chemical, which is a cytokine named Interleukin-6. The problem with this chemical is not as simple as it may seem since it can compromise the barrier between the bloodstream and the brain, causing trauma, infection, and even obesity.


After identifying the harmful chemical secreted by the tumors, the scientists found that the lifespan of both animals could be increased when blocking the effect o Cytokine on the barrier. As confirmed by this finding, cytokine produces inflammation which makes the brain barrier open. Even when they left the tumor untouched, the animals could live longer only by interfering in the inflammation process. Cancer patients would then benefit from drugs that could potentially block the action of Interleukin-6, according to Bilder.

Some years ago, a team guided by Bilder, also researched to find that tumors in fruitflies secrete a substance that can block the effects of insulin, further explaining a possible reason for the death of cancer patients. A great advantage of this new approach of targetting the chemicals produced by tumors rather than the cancerous cells is that findings in this direction could reduce the need for drugs that are toxic and have been conventionally used, killing healthy and cancerous cells.

Another good news for the implementation of this approach is that often, focusing on tumor cells may cause resistance because the tumor has genetic variability, that may cause cancer to appear over and over again.

Finally, Bilder and his team have highlighted that research on fruitflies is very promising for the future of cancer patients because a large sample can be studied, improving statistical significance of the results, and because even if humans and flies are not closely related, flies have played a vital role in understanding tumor growth factors. They also hope that their study will attract other scientists to work in a similar direction not only from the fly perspective but from the biology and clinician view.