Study of Concussed Fruit Flies May Add to Understanding of Traumatic Brain Injuries

Abby with the HIT Device (Photo: Hung Nguyen ‘25).

Advanced STEM Research is a unique, year-long course offered at Northwood. Students can pick their topic of interest, devise a plan of operation, conduct experiments, and ultimately present their findings at the Hub in the final weeks of school. This year, Abby Sinclair ‘23 is researching the effect of diets on fruit flies’ ability to withstand concussions.

The experiment begins by feeding two fruit flies with two different diets. One group is fed a controlled diet, primarily carbohydrates, while the other will be fed a keto diet with more protein. The flies will then be struck at different angles using the High Impact Trauma (HIT) device, and observation will be made within 24 hours. Noted details include mortality rates and aggressive behavioral patterns. According to Sinclair, Sinclair hopes to see whether the data results can translate to humans with a traumatic brain injury, given that humans and fruit flies share 75% of the disease-fighting genes.

Proceeding with the preliminary observation, Abby will run three additional treatments: the control diet group, the keto diet group before and after being concussed, and the keto diet group after being concussed with the control diet group before the concussion. The upcoming procedure will be for the control group. The flies will be concussed at four combinations of hits: one hit at 40°, two hits at 40°, one hit at 90°, and two hits at 90°, respectively. After that, Sinclair will monitor the flies for the following 48 hours instead of 24 hours to record the mortality rate in the period. As mentioned, she will note any behavioral changes resulting from diet and hit combinations.

Abby developed the basic experimental design over the summer. “Originally, I came up with this idea while talking to my cousin, who was experimenting with reducing mortality in fruit flies. It piqued my interest, and the materials were accessible, so I contacted Mrs. Walker in the summer to see how we could make this happen. Once the school year started, I talked with Mr. Roy for guidance in creating the HIT device,” Sinclair said.

“I decided to take this course because I wanted to be challenged in Biology and get a taste of lab work,” she said. “I’ve liked the independence of structuring my time and how the project will turn out, the ability to make my own decisions, working out the process of dealing with fruit flies and the process of trial and error. I’ve learned the patience needed to carry out the experiment. There have been obstacles throughout the project. One instance is trying to keep the fruit flies alive, especially during the past winter break. Ultimately, I’m enjoying the class because I have learned a lot and would encourage others to take it,” added Sinclair.

Sinclair will pursue a pre-med curriculum in college, where she will continue her studies in Biology. She aspires to one day become an anesthesiologist.


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