Zebrafish are helping researchers test safer treatments for a form of pediatric cancer called T-ALL (T-cell acute lymphocytic leukemia). It’s important to work towards developing less toxic cancer treatments, and these small fish could be part of the solution.

So how are fish helping pediatric cancer patients? A patient’s cancer cells are injected into the yolk sac of a zebrafish embryo. As the fish continues to grow, the cancer cells are incorporated into the fish, and researchers are able to test different drugs that they hope will work on those specific cancer cells. Scientists can tell when a drug is successful in killing the cancer cells when the cancer cells in the zebrafish stop dividing.

This is like a personalized approach to cancer treatment. By using a patient’s specific cancer cells, different drugs can be tested in an animal model that will give doctors an idea of the best approach for that particular patient.

A fish helping provide clues to human cancer? Sounds like a stretch, but it’s been shown that zebrafish can be excellent models for human conditions in many cases. For example, zebrafish treated with doxorubicin (a drug often used to treat leukemia in children) showed side effects similar to those seen in human children. These fish may be important in the development of new drugs and treatments, as the hope is that doctors will be able to screen new drugs and test less toxic treatments. If these fish can give children battling leukemia a better chance at survival, I have a whole new respect for these little guys!

Read more about this research here.

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