Hope for new drug

Nancy Bonini, a professor of biology, and her colleagues are using fruit flies to investigate Parkinson’s disease, the second most common human neurodegenerative disorder. They found that medication prevented the onset of a similar disorder in genetically-predisposed Drosophila melanogaster.

As in humans, a protein implicated in the onset of Parkinson’s disease causes neuronal loss in fruit flies too. Bonini and biology graduate student Pavan K. Auluck focused their research on a class of proteins called molecular chaperones. They used a naturally occurring antibiotic called geldanamycin to boost the activity of these proteins and showed that it blocked the progression of neurodegenerative disease in Drosophila.

Their work has opened a new window for researchers searching for drugs that can prevent diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. “Our studies suggest that a new class of drugs might prevent neurodegenerative disorders by fortifying these neurons even before the onset of disease,” said Bonini.

Originally published on December 5, 2002