• Science Saturday: Fruit flies rise to the occasion

image of fruit flies under a microscope presented on a computer screenFishing them out of a drink, you may not see the benefit of fruit flies. But they are a vital scientific model, and at Mayo Clinic, they are helping researchers investigate a debilitating chemotherapy side effect: nerve damage called “peripheral neuropathy.”

“The platinum drugs — cisplatin, carboplatin, oxaliplatin — are the [most common] drugs used to treat cancer,” says Anthony Windebank, M.D., a neurologist on Mayo Clinic’s Rochester, Minnesota, campus.

But in 30 to 40 percent of cancer patients, these drugs can cause enduring pain in the hands and feet, says Dr. Windebank. Peripheral neuropathy significantly changes patients’ quality of life. Some interpret the pins and needles of nerve damage as pain. For other, it’s numbness. When it affects feet, the nerve damage can affect balance and gait. But it’s not clear who is most at risk from this side effect. Researchers in Dr. Windebank’s lab are trying to find out and discover if there are ways to protect nerve cells prior to chemotherapy. And for the first time in science, they’re doing it using fruit flies. Read the rest of the article on Discovery's Edge.


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