The fight to cure cancer has seen many advances over the years. Recently, pediatric cancer treatments are receiving big boosts from a small fish. Thanks to the zebrafish, cancer researchers now have a window providing live images of tumors forming and growing.
Understanding the earliest stages of tumor growth will put scientists one step closer to create effective pediatric cancer treatments. The zebrafish has a 90 percent similar genetic make-up to the one found in humans, which makes it an ideal model for studying these early genetic changes that cause tumors to form.
What Have Scientists Learned From the Zebrafish?
Cancer researchers studying melanoma, a cancer of the skin, used fluorescent protein to study the formation of melanoma in zebrafish. This gave them the ability to study the formation of tumors at a cellular level.
Being able to study individual cancer cells allows researchers to understand how cancer initially forms. It also gives researchers an important tool for understanding why some cells with genetic mutations associated with cancer do not always become cancerous.
What Makes Zebrafish So Special?
Aside from their genetic similarity to humans, zebrafish are virtually transparent. Researchers can see the spinal column and blood moving throughout the fish. This is aided by genetic manipulation that causes specific cells or tissues to become fluorescent or opaque.
Zebrafish typically cost much less to house and care for than the commonly-used lab mouse. Their main advantage, however, may be in their large numbers.
Scientists can introduce a variety of potential cancer triggers to thousands of fish at a time, which speeds research. Because zebrafish can produce thousands of offspring from a single mating, scientists looking for a pediatric cancer treatment can screen genetically-similar siblings on a very large scale.