Zebrafish: novel alternative tool in the scientific fight against cancer

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The Zebrafish Lab uses zebrafish, cheaper and more effective than mice, to investigate new treatments

Mice are no longer fashionable in laboratories. Nowadays, the zebrafish, hardly 5 centimeters length, is the number one when it comes to scientific progress. Roberto Díez and Rubén Díez are currently investigating with zebrafish under the innovative company Zebrafish Lab, which the scientific director Iranzu Lamberto Pérez has also joined recently.

The use of zebrafish in scientific research is not only an ethic matter for which the Spanish law, among others, has shown its preference with the aim of avoiding the suffering of animals. It is also an economic issue. The maintenance of mammals has a cost of 1 euro, whereas for zebrafish the cost is 0.10 cents. This leads to a wide range of resources available for research.

Furthermore, the margin of error in the research results is substantially lower. The zebrafish lays over five hundred eggs at once and, within 24 hours, there is an embryo. Therefore, the higher the number of specimens, the lower the statistical margin of error. Due to this fact, the scientific community considers the zebrafish to be good, nice and cheap.

Another great advantage of zebrafish from a scientific point of view is that 70% of the human genes have a counterpart in zebrafish. For pharmaceutical companies, which are customers of this company, the use of this technology implies saving as much as 70% compared with the research made with mammals. It also means shortening delivery times.

Roberto Díez came up with this technology through his doctoral thesis, which was elaborated at Rockefeller University, in New York jointly with the Spanish Scientific Research Council (CSIC). Indeed, he played a pioneering role in the reproduction of an infectious disease, the pneumonia, with the zebrafish.

Oncology and Environment

The research is mainly applied within two areas: the oncology and the environmental sector. Iranzu Lamberto, scientific director of the company, holds a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology by the University of Navarra. In this regard, she made several postdoctoral stays at the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), which is one of the most prestigious institutions in this field.

The fight against cancer was nothing new to Roberto Díez. His thesis, elaborated at the University of Navarra, was related to the creation and synthesis of anti-tumor compounds. Chemotherapy, which until then was the most extended treatment for the patients with cancer disease, does not make a distinction among the type of patients. “Each type of cancer is different. We are focused on developing personalized treatments in order to achieve higher efficiency and counteract the side effects”, Iranzu Lamberto says. “Indeed, in United States the oncological patients usually rely on this type of techniques.”

In order to achieve targeted and personalized therapies, this company injects tumor cells from biopsies into the zebrafish. Within a short timeframe, the fish is able to reproduce the human tumor and, due to its plasticity, it is possible to detect the development and to test new compounds taking security and efficiency for granted. “We are able to reproduce either a solid or a liquid human tumor on the zebrafish. This allows us to evaluate the most appropriate treatment for the specific type of tumor in a quick manner”.

According to her, this type of tests performed on a regular basis can lead to a great progress for the treatment of cancer in the future.

The company has reached an agreement with Navarra Biomed-Fundación Miguel Server, a research center linked to the Government of the region of Navarra. Jointly with Doctor David Escors, the company will inject tumoral cells and also fluorescent cells with the aim of detecting metastasis and finding out why tumors can create resistance to treatments.

Another practical approach of the zebrafish is the environmental sector. The zebrafish acts as a perfect thermometer in the water. As a result, it can be determined whether there is an accumulation of heavy metals in certain parts of the river, as well as any other issue. As stated by Roberto Díez, the Spanish Royal Decree recommends the use of seaweeds, fish and fleas to evaluate the quality of the water. “In some countries, such us United States, Canada or China, this type of tests is mandatory. We also want to catch the wave, as this will also get to Spain.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]