Congratulations to Dr. Jennifer Hocking, the lead PI on a successful $400,000 Canadian Foundation for Innovation grant for a zebrafish aquatics facility, which will be operational by year-end. Located in the HSLAS unit in the Li Ka Shing Centre for Health Research Innovation, it will help research including thyroid cancer and the eye’s photoreceptors.
The Zebrafish has become a popular model for a wide range of health research.
The significant conservation between zebrafish and human genetics, development, and physiology has led zebrafish to become a popular model for a wide range of health research. The fish breed prodigiously, develop rapidly, and are easy to maintain. Further, the transparency and external development of the embryos allows for imaging of cellular and organ development in live animals.
Dr. Hocking’s research focuses on the mechanisms underlying development and maintenance of photoreceptors, the light-detecting cells of the eye. Dr. Hocking says, “While the field has identified a number of genes that lead to photoreceptor degeneration and blindness, in many cases we don’t understand what those genes are doing in these complex cells.” As zebrafish eyes are very similar to human eyes, the fish make excellent models for vision research.
Dr. Hocking is collaborating with other FoMD researchers to help them apply zebrafish to their area of research. For example, she is helping Dr. Todd McMullen, also in the Department of Surgery, to develop a xenograft model for the study of thyroid cancer. The idea is to use the transparent zebrafish larvae, with their immature immune systems, as an in-vivo host for human cancer cells ¾ they are currently looking at how expression of a growth factor receptor enhances the ability of the cancer cells to spread. The eventual goal is to use the fish for rapid drug screening assays on patient-derived tumour cells.
Other collaborative projects touch on areas such as the intestinal microbiome, brain development, and ciliopathies ¾ highlighting the breadth of research that can use zebrafish as a model system.