Fruit fly study targets treatment of chronic pain

Aug 30, 2022

Dr. Jeffrey Dason wants to help treat chronic pain in humans by studying the fruit fly.

Biomedical sciences professor Dr. Jeffrey Dason received a $516,376 Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) grant for his five-year project, “The role of Neuronal Calcium Sensor-1/Frequenin2 in nociception.”

“1 in 5 Canadians experience chronic pain resulting in cost of healthcare and lost productivity that exceeds the cost of cancer, heart disease and HIV,” says Dason.

To understand what molecules could be potentially targeted in humans to treat chronic pain, he will study the simpler model of the fruit fly.

“In our grant we use the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, to study cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying nociception,” he says.

“Nociception is a process in which pain sensing neurons called nociceptors detect painful stimuli and allow individuals to avoid potential tissue damage and death.”

Treating pain remains a major challenge due to a lack of understanding of the cellular and molecular machinery that regulates nociception. By furthering the understanding of it, new therapeutic targets to treat chronic pain may be discovered.

“Drosophila have pain sensing neurons, or nociceptors, that are similar to nociceptors found in humans – but have a simpler nervous system,” says Dason.

“There are many genetic tools in Drosophila that allow us to target specific genes and pathways and overall, we anticipate our findings will assist in developing new therapeutic strategies to improve the treatment of pain.” 

Dason says trying to decipher the pathways of the fly will hopefully give him and his team new therapeutic targets.

“Similar to humans, Drosophila display hyperalgesia (increased nociceptive sensitivity) following tissue injury or treatment with drugs used in chemotherapy. We will examine how tissue injury and these drugs affect the expression of specific proteins and pathways that we have shown are important for nociception.”

Preliminary data for the CIHR study was collected through a one-year WE-SPARK Health Institute incentive grant.