Just over 100 years ago, the American Cancer Society (then called the American Society for the Control of Cancer) was founded by a group of 15 New York City physicians and businessmen who were committed to raising awareness around cancer. Less than 60 years later, the National Cancer Act, which the American Cancer Society calls “the most dramatic piece of health legislation ever enacted,” was passed. Many believe that the National Cancer Act is what kicked off the War on Cancer, starting the lengthy battle that the world is still fighting today. Cancer, which takes an estimated 600,000 lives each year, is currently the number two killer in America. However, ground-breaking new research is leading some to believe that the key to finding a cancer cure may be held in the most unconventional of places: the pesky little pests commonly known as fruit flies.
Fruit flies, sometimes confused with tiny gnats, are ordinary household critters that typically appear in late summer and early fall. These irritating little bugs are attracted to ripened or rotting fruits and veggies and, given the opportunity, can lay upwards of 500 eggs during their week-long lifespan. Historically, information on the creepy critters has been focused on how to get rid of them once they appear. However, latest research has uncovered that fruit flies can actually be quite helpful, especially when it comes to cancer.
In early January, the international scientific journal Scientific Report published an article that revealed how fruit flies are actually able to use their sense of smell to distinguish cancer cells from healthy cells. Researchers found that the flies could not only determine distinctions between healthy cells and cancerous cells but could identify groupings of different cancer cells as well. The results gave researchers hope that the fruit flies’ sensitive olfactory receptors could help lead to the development of inexpensive, efficient, and quick pre-screening tools that could detect cancer cells far sooner than current techniques. But that is not the only trick these tiny critters have up their microscopic sleeves. According to CBS News, some researchers now believe that fruit flies may hold the key in helping to find a cure for cancer.
CBS News shared in a recent article that fruit fly geneticist Ross Cagan, along with his team of researchers, has started doing something straight out of a science fiction novel. Cagan and team are creating genetic copies of a cancer patient’s malignant tumor in fruit flies and are then able to test thousands of cancer cocktails against the tumor to find the one that works. By making genetic models as close to the patient’s tumor as possible, the team is able to throw concoctions of FDA-approved drugs (both those designed to treat cancer and those that are not) at the tumor to see what works. Early results are promising, with at least one reported cancer patient undergoing treatment using a three-drug cocktail that kicked the cancer out of his genetically matched fruit fly.
“We don’t really care what’s driving the tumor; we just care what stops it,” said Cagan. The team, which recently opened the Center for Personalized Cancer Therapeutics at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, has high hopes for the revolutionary cancer research, believing that the little fruit flies may hold the key to eventually finding a cure.
By Katie Bloomstrom