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Zebrafish may hold key to improved cancer research

A new study has confirmed that research done with zebrafish may be able to play a critical role in learning about the genetic basis of cancer and the mutations that can lead to it - and identified one gene in particular, B-myb, whose function is essential to preventing tumors.

The findings were published in a professional journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, by researchers from Oregon State University and two Boston hospitals, the Brigham and Women's Hospital and Children's Hospital.

The research also indicates that zebrafish may be a key to faster, less expensive studies on cancer and carcinogens, as well as a tool to lower the cost for drug development, OSU experts said.

The first comprehensive cancer research studies using this small, striped tropical fish were begun at OSU over 10 years ago, and the species has become an important tool in medical research programs around the world.

"It's increasingly clear that in zebrafish we have an animal model that is inexpensive, easy to work with and extremely useful for study of human cancers," said Jan Spitsbergen, a fish pathologist in OSU's Center for Fish Disease Research. "We've now proven that most of the carcinogens that affect humans are also active in zebrafish and can lead to the same types of cancer, whether it's in the brain, blood, reproductive organs or elsewhere."

The newest finding about the gene B-myb is especially compelling, said Spitsbergen. The B-myb gene has been conserved through hundreds of millions of years of divergent evolution in species ranging from worms to fruit flies, fish and humans.

When it functions normally, B-myb appropriately regulates cell proliferation. When it becomes mutated, either through genetic predisposition or environmental influences, the formation of tumors can dramatically increase, scientists say. The gene appears to be particularly relevant to human leukemias.

OSU's fish disease research program
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Source:Oregon State University


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