Zebrafish helping in the fight against cancer

SAN ANTONIO -- (12/08/2017) -- Zebrafish are rapidly becoming the ‘go-to’ animals in cancer research. Small and translucent, they breed rapidly, and take up little room. And they grow transplanted cancer tumors in their little bodies very quickly. This gives doctors a clear view of why some cancers metastasize and recur. Eventually, this research will yield treatment for these recurrent cancers, which can be deadly.

Kennedie Bailey was a healthy, happy fifth grader until this past summer, when doctors diagnosed her with rhabdomyosarcoma; a rare form of childhood cancer.

Bailey told Ivanhoe, “He did a biopsy and then a few weeks later, we found out the results and that’s how we learned that I had rhabdomyosarcoma.”

Kennedie’s stepfather, Chris Bendele, explained, “I mean anytime you hear something like that, it’s gonna be a shocker to you. Especially when you see them healthy, and then you find out, oh you know.”

Although rare, Kennedie’s cancer is treatable. The larger problem is when the cancer recurs. So, researchers are utilizing zebrafish, in which they transplant cancerous tumors and keep a careful eye on them.

“You can look at it under the microscope and follow it for days, months and years and we can follow a cancer. How cancers form, and because they’re transparent, we can look in a tumor and say these are stem cells, this is a blood vessel. What are they doing?” Myron Ignatius, PhD, Researcher, UT Health San Antonio explained.

Hopefully not recurring, because the survival rate drops dramatically. There is no treatment for the 20 percent of patients who relapse.

Aaron Sugalski, DO, Hematologist/Oncologist, UT Health San Antonio stated, “My expectation for the research study would be that it leaves us to be able to identify which patients are going to have a recurrence sooner, and then also ultimately being able to end up to treat those recurrences.”

“Whatever they can find out not only for her but for other kids, you know … it’s extremely important,” said Bendele.

Professor Ignatius and his team keep between 10,000-15,000 fish in the laboratory, working around the clock to help find a cure for children like Kennedie.

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