Toxoplasmosis infections, caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, are estimated to affect about 1/3 of the world’s human population. Treatment can be difficult – but now, thanks to zebrafish, there may be hope on the horizon!
Toxoplasmosis is considered to be a leading cause of death attributed to foodborne illness in the U.S., according to the CDC. Millions of Americans carry the parasite, but few actually develop symptoms. However, toxoplasmosis is especially dangerous during pregnancy, when it can potentially cause miscarriage or stillbirth, or complications later in life, including eye problems, issues with brain development, cerebral palsy, and epilepsy.
So… how can zebrafish help? These striking fish reproduce very quickly, and their genetic similarities to humans make them an excellent model for diseases. Recently, it was shown that research with zebrafish may be able to speed up the process of developing less toxic treatments for pediatric cancer. While T. gondii affects a large variety of birds and mammals, it has never been observed before in fish. But by raising the temperature of the zebrafish’s habitat, researchers have been able to infect zebrafish with the parasite. This is good news for us, because scientists are now able to work with these fish to develop new therapies for those infected with the disease.
Read more about this research here.