Francesca Pignoni, PhD
Using the Fly to Understand Eye Disease
Degenerative diseases of the eye often develop slowly. This provides a window of opportunity for slowing or curing the disease before symptoms appear. However, to decide how, when, and where to intervene, we need to have detailed knowledge—at the cellular and molecular levels—of the imbalances that precede and lead to the disease state.
Model organisms such as the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) simplify the genetic dissection of complex cellular processes and contribute greatly to our understanding of the molecular mechanisms that result in human disease.
The Pignoni Lab uses the Drosophila Model:
- to understand how the eye develops.
As apparent to all of us, the fly eye shows little resemblance to the human eye. Surprisingly, however, many of the same genes involved in the development of the fly eye play a similar role in the human eye. Dr. Pignoni is particularly interesAdult Fly Eyeted in genes that act at a very early stage in eye formation because of their likely role in the formation of retinal progenitor cells.
- to better understand the effect of mutated genes on photreceptor cells' viability and function.
Mutant forms of human genes can be introduced in the fly and then studied at molecular and cellular levels. This approach allows us to investigate how such altered genes interfere with cellular processes and lead to disease.
- to explore avenues for intervention at the level of genetic pathways and critical cellular processes.
Flies that display aspects of the human disease (e.g. degeneration of photoreceptors) can be used to explore what types of genetic alterations or chemical coumpounds can effectively block, or significantly slow down, the progress of the 'disease.'