They’re unlikely candidates – but wriggly little fish, the humble chicken egg and a fly which buzzes around your fruit bowl could hold the key to medical breakthroughs.
Scientists at the University of Sheffield opened their doors to the public to show how taxpayer-funded research could treat conditions which affect the nervous system.
The centre for Developmental and Biomedical Genetics, in Firth Court, uses fruit flies, fish and chicken eggs to find out more about illnesses such as epilepsy and motor neurone disease.
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Medical Research Council the building – home to the largest aquarium for the species in the UK – was opened up.
Staff took visitors on a tour of hundreds of tanks of the zebra fish, from India and Bangladesh.
Genetics lecturer Dr Vincent Cunliffe said: “I’m interested in how the brain is built. We use zebra fish in our work because, like other vertebrae, many of the cells used to build the fish brain are shared with us.
“We take advantage of those similarities to carry out medical experiments.”
The main body of work, which has included looking at what triggers epilepsy and the effect medication has, involves the fish embryos.
Dr Cunliffe added: “We’re looking at how existing medication which treats other conditions, it could be things like Athlete’s Foot, has any effect on epileptic convulsions in the fish embryos.
“We’re also trying to look at ways to reduce the side effects of existing medication for epilepsy.”
Across the corridor Dr Alex Whitworth and his laboratory team are among thousands of test tubes filled with hundreds of tiny fruit flies.
Dr Whitworth said: “Our genetic make-up and the fruit fly’s are incredibly similar. In my lab we look at the causes of diseases like Parkinson’s, we look for genetic changes and how to reverse those characteristics in the flies.”
Visitor Terry Saunders, of Ranmoor, said: “It is really interesting to see how they spend money from the taxpayer on medical research. From what I’ve seen today it’s money well spent.”