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Promise and Progress - Something's Fishy in Cancer Research

Faces of Childhood Cancer

Something's Fishy in Cancer Research

Date: June 1, 2004

Historically, the mouse has been the animal of choice for studying cancer. Recently, however, an entirely different animal model has been welcomed into the laboratories of some cancer researchers, including Robert Arceci, King Fahd Professor and director of pediatric oncology, and pancreatic cancer researcher Steven Leach, Paul K. Neumann Professor in pancreatic cancer and chief of surgical oncology. It is, of all things, the zebra fish.

So, why study zebra fish? They offer two undeniable virtues:  Because the tiny, 11/2-inch striped swimmers lay hundreds of eggs, researchers gain immediate access to hordes of embryos at the one-cell stage. And, since the embryos are transparent, it’s possible to evaluate developmental events as they take place. In addition, zebra fish are relatively inexpensive to keep and require significantly less space than mice, according to Arceci. Both he and Leach study cancer by injecting the fish with candidate genes and watching how their cells develop.

Leach has used the zebra fish model to study the Notch pathway gene and found it to be abnormally activated in human pancreatic cancer. Arceci plans to use the fish for his studies of the PASG gene, a pathway involved in the aging and death of cells that could be useful in forcing cancer cells into an early death.    —with Judy Minkove