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.