About Zebrafish What type of fish are Zebrafish? Zebrafish are small, warm water pond fish. They are very popular in home aquariums since they are so easy to care for. But because they are vertebrates and have the same organs as humans, with transparent embryos that develop outside of the womb, they are also popular biomedical research models.
Zebrafish as a Research Model What are the benefits of Zebrafish as a research model? The Zebrafish immune system is remarkably similar to ours. Humans and Zebrafish share 70% of the same genes, and 84% of human disease genes have a Zebrafish counterpart. Every human organ system is reflected in Zebrafish; they have the same sort of cells, genes and defects that humans do, and they respond to drugs in the same way. In addition, since their embryos are transparent and they develop outside of the womb, they are very good developmental models. Also, because they are fresh water fish, they are relatively easy and cost-efficient to keep. Further, they breed fairly quickly so they are ideal for multi-generational research.
What are the advantages of Zebrafish over mice and rats as a research model? Zebrafish offer numerous advantages over traditional rat and mice research models:
Zebrafish maintenance costs are less than 1/1000th of mice maintenance costs.
Zebrafish are small and social, with 70 Zebrafish per tank, versus only 5 mice per cage.
Zebrafish are significantly less expensive; one tank costs 6.5 cents per day, versus one cage of mice at 90 cents per day.
Zebrafish repair and regrow fully functional organs, including the spinal cord, heart, kidney, and retina.
Zebrafish reproduce quickly, producing 9,000 offspring in a lifetime, compared to only 300 offspring over a mouse’s lifetime.
Zebrafish embryos are transparent, allowing direct, non-invasive observation of organ development, form and function. With rats and mice, tissue samples must be observed under a microscope.
Zebrafish and Drug Discovery Why are Zebrafish a critical research model right now? Healthcare spending is out of control. Zebrafish offer a low cost, high-volume way of determining which drugs currently being researched are worth carrying through to the next level of development. An increase in funding for Zebrafish research would accelerate the pace at which we learn about new drug candidates, and the speed with which these drugs get into the development pipeline and, ultimately, to the patients who need them.
How can Zebrafish research impact drug discovery and development? Zebrafish are a game-changer for drug discovery and development, informing optimal disease treatment. For instance, a human tumor specimen can be implanted in a Zebrafish and, within five days, information about drug sensitivity and metastasis will be available that helps direct the selection of therapy before or immediately after treatment begins.
What have researchers learned to date from Zebrafish? Researchers have learned amazing things about organ development from Zebrafish. They have found new genes that cause human disease, as well as new therapies that can be used to treat patients with disease. Successes achieved by comparing human and Zebrafish genomes include discoveries of several previously unknown genes that are involved in rare forms of muscular dystrophy, genetic pathways involved in human embryo development and heart physiology, and drugs that are now being tested as future treatments for skin cancer.
What kinds of diseases are benefiting from Zebrafish research? Diseases currently being studied through Zebrafish research include cancer, diabetes, addiction, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, Parkinson’s, epilepsy, and autism. Additionally, rare genetic diseases like Prader-Willi Syndrome, as well as the effects of environmental toxins on human neurological development, are being researched with Zebrafish.
Zebrafish Research Today Where is Zebrafish research being done today? Zebrafish are being studied at leading U.S. research institutions, like Harvard University, the Mayo Institute, Georgetown University Medical Center, the National Institutes of Health, and Johns Hopkins. They are also being studied by NASA on the International Space Station, and by students in classrooms around the country.
When did researchers start to use Zebrafish research models? Work on the Zebrafish model began at the University of Oregon in Eugene in the 1970s, and over the past few decades the Zebrafish has become an increaing popular biomedical research model. Zebrafish have certain benefits for their use, including that they are vertebrates, have the same organs as people, their embryos are transparent and develop outside the body, they have a significant amount of offspring, and they breed quickly.
Why don’t more researchers use Zebrafish models? We anticipate that over time they will. The majority of scientists are just learning about the benefits of the Zebrafish for biomedical search. The Zebrafish as a scientific model is only about four decades old, so it is just starting to gain in popularity. We expect as the scientific and medical communities learn more about the benefits of this model, it’s use will become widespread. An important goal of this forum is educate the biomedical community about the benefits of performing biomedical research using the Zebrafish as a model.
How can I support Zebrafish research? Donations to support Zebrafish research can be made on our website.
Zebrafish: Practically People, transforming How We Study Disease Why did you create Zebrafish: Practically People? I learned about Zebrafish over twenty-five years ago when my then boyfriend, now husband, Dr. Eric Glasgow, started to work with them in his scientific research. It was really amazing to see how he was able to use a simple aquarium fish to perform multi-generational experiments with a large number of subjects so quickly and with such good results. Despite this success and that of other scientists who use this model, I constantly hear stories about how requests for Zebrafish research funding are questioned because Zebrafish are too new a research model or not well-understood. I am a strong believer in the use of facts to help people make decisions. Accordingly, I chose to make this film as a way to educate the scientific and medical communities about the benefits of utilizing the Zebrafish and how their continued use can lead to a transformation in how we study and cure disease.
When did Zebrafish: Practically People premier and become available for viewing on zebrafishfilm.org? Zebrafish: Practically People, Transforming How We Study Disease premiered online at zebrafishfilm.org and at The National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on the evening of January 9, 2018.