"The pathways important for regulating development are also dysregulated in cancer," said DuBois, who studies prostaglandin signaling in colon cancer. Knowing how prostaglandins regulate cell movement in development can help cancer researchers determine how cancer cells spread throughout the body, or metastasize ?and how to stop the process. DuBois previously found that adding PGE2 to cultured cancer cells causes them to move much more rapidly.
"We've been able to show that some genes in this pathway are really important for cancer cells to spread to the liver," he said. "Eventually, we may be able to find a way to attack this pathway and prevent metastatic spread of colon cancer."
Scientists have known that people who take aspirin, a drug that inhibits prostaglandin synthesis, have about a 50 percent reduction in their risk of getting colon cancer, DuBois explained.
"We've been on a quest for the last 10 years to understand why such a simple drug leads to such a significant reduction in cancer risk," he said. "There are several parts to that puzzle. This (finding) may be one piece."
Zebrafish models may seem like a step back from the more traditional mouse models used to study cancer. But zebrafish, which develop quickly, are inexpensive and easy to manipulate, could actually aid in the discovery of new cancer drugs.
"If you could use the zebrafish intelligently to screen for these drugs, it might really speed up the drug discovery process and give us some early clues about the effects we may see in humans," DuBois said.