Zebra fish to help Ghent research project

A new research facility at the University of Ghent's Medical Genetic Centre will house some 6,000 zebra fish. The fish and mice that are already at the centre will be used for research into heredity illnesses such as cancer, cardio-vascular defects, blindness and osteoporosis.

The zebra fish is sometimes called "the model organism of the future". Its genetic make-up is around 70% the same as that of humans. Zebra fish are also vertebrates.

Professor Paul Coucke told the VRT that "There are a number of disadvantages with using traditional lab test animals such as mice and rats that you don't have with zebra fish".

"A zebra fish lays its eggs outside the body and the eggs are fertilised and embryos developed outside the body too. This means that we can follow their development into larva easily."

Zebra fish lay around 400 egg a week. These develop quickly and just two days after fertilisation the most important organs have already been formed. That the embryos aren't considered to be living organisms until after five days has its advantages as does the fact that the fish are transparent and cheap to keep.

While it can easily take between one and two years before any data can be gained from mice. This is between just three and five months with zebra fish.

The zebra fish will be used in research into hereditary illnesses. "When carrying out research into cardio-vascular complaints it is relatively easy to inject genes that cause or cure arterial defects", Professor Coucke said.

The zebra fish will be used for research into conditions including blindness and osteoporosis and for testing treatments for the most common cancer in infancy, neuroblastoma.