Earning their stripes – Zebrafish lead the way to learning more about MND

Zebrafish are increasingly becoming the organism of choice to study both early development and disease. But why are zebrafish important to MND research and can we really learn anything from a fish?

Shall I compare thee to a zebrafish?
Amazingly, we share many of our genes with our finned-friend the zebrafish which means that we really can compare what happens in zebrafish with what happens in humans.

With transparent embryos, zebrafish offer a unique view into the developing fish which means that researchers can study their neurones under a microscope – a feat that is not possible in humans or other mammals. We can also learn about how the disease progresses in fish by measuring their muscle strength by the amount they move, and by measuring their progress swimming against a current in a tube. 

Unlike us, zebrafish are also able to regenerate motor neurones if they become damaged. Interestingly – it is not that we do not have this capacity; we have extra signals that tell our motor neurones not to regenerate.

Zebrafish can therefore be used in MND research to gain a greater understanding of the processes that govern both the degeneration and regeneration of motor neurones to develop new and better treatments.

In the past 30 years, the number of scientific articles published about zebrafish has increased 465 fold. Not only does this show the increased use of this model, but also represents our collective increase in understanding more about human diseases and human development.

We’re fishing our way to a world free of MND
One of our newest projects, set to begin later this year, will be using a new zebrafish model of MND to screen over 2,000 potential new drugs to test for their effectiveness. This work will be carried out at the University of Sheffield by Dr Tennore Ramesh and Prof Pam Shaw.

This project will join the ranks of many other MND Association funded projects that are developing new models of MND to learn more about the causes of MND so that we can be in a better position to develop treatments.

We have also recently supported the development of new guidelines for the use of models in MND research in order to improve our confidence in pre-clinical (laboratory) studies and hopefully the success rate of MND clinical trials.

Zebrafish will not be able to provide us with all of the answers as to what causes the disease, or how we can treat it. But, when used in combination with a number of other exciting disease models, including chick embryos, flies and mice, we can push MND research to a new and exciting level.

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11 thoughts on “Earning their stripes – Zebrafish lead the way to learning more about MND

  1. Hi Kelly,

    This is great news! I am sure this model, alongside the recent MND fly model, will generate excitement and hope for people affected by MND. When will the project start and how soon can we expect results from the drug screens?

    Matt

  2. Hi Kelly,

    This is great news! I am sure this model, alongside the recent MND fly model, will generate excitement and hope for people affected by MND. When will the project start and how soon can we expect results from the drug screens?

    Matt

    • Hi Matt,
      Glad you enjoyed the article. The zebrafish project is set to begin in September 2011 and will be a three year project. Normally projects will publish their results from studies in their third year, and even after the grant has completed in their forth or fifth year. So i’m afraid it may be a while before we hear anything from this project in terms of results from drug screens.

      We’re just in the process of writing up all of the summaries for all 12 new projects that will start this year and when they’re written we’ll upload them onto our ‘research we fund’ section of our website so you can hear more about what the zebrafish project aims to do.

      You may also hear some news about new models at this years’ International Symposium on ALS/MND – this year being held in Sydney Australia from 30 November – 2 December 2011. We’ll be reporting from the symposium via our blog again to keep everybody up to date with goings on!

      Also – would you find a future article about the importance of fly models useful? And if so, are there any questions you’d like us to answer about the model?

      Kelly

      *edited as project starts in September!

  3. Hi Kelly,
    Many thanks for your swift response. I hope you don’t mind but I have put your offer of an article on the fruit fly model and answering any other questions on the MNDA Forum (Research and trials section). Personally, it would be great to hear the MNDA viewpoint on this model. The life cycle of a fruit life is a lot shorter than a zebra fish so surely they could test potential drug compounds at a much quicker rate. I’ll give it a few days and come back to you with any questions from the forum members.
    Matt

  4. Just a note to say that all 12 new projects starting in 2011 have been added to our information sheet ‘research we fund’. Full descriptions on each project, can be found on our website. Here’s the shortcut: http://bit.ly/ioXFgJ.

    PS – Ramesh’s Zebrafish project is found in ‘developing treatments’ section.

  5. Pingback: Come fly with me « MND Research

  6. Pingback: Match-making to find a new treatment for MND « MND Research

  7. Pingback: Zebrafish show that ‘connector neurons’ are the key in early stages of MND « MND Research

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