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Biomedical research to grow with opening of $1.5M zebrafish lab

Halifax, NS – Dalhousie Medical School recently celebrated  the opening of a new lab: the Zebrafish Core Facility. Housed in the university’s Life Sciences Research Institute (LSRI), the $1.5 million facility is one of the largest of its kind in North America. It will provide researchers access to state-of-the-art equipment for studying zebrafish models of disease and testing potential new treatments in these disease models.

And with room for up to 75,000 adult fish in the facility, collaborative biomedical research at the university is set to grow exponentially.

While some of the zebrafish in the lab look similar to ones in a home aquarium, the lab also uses a number of special genetically modified and mutant fish, including a special breed called casper. This breed is almost completely see-through due to a lack of pigmentation.

These special fish give researchers like Dr. Jason Berman, associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics and one of the lab’s main tenants, visual access to the animal’s internal anatomy and development processes. It also lets him evaluate genetic modifications and therapeutic responses to transplanted human cells in real time.

”Zebrafish provide an unprecedented tractable vertebrate model system for developing genetic and transplant models of human cancers for the purpose of testing new therapies,” said Dr. Berman.

“The speed and cost-effectiveness of these studies means the zebrafish can provide real time response data to personalize cancer therapies, and serve as a key preclinical screening platform in the pipeline for new drug discovery,” he added.

Alongside Dr. Berman’s research, other specialists are using zebrafish to gain insights into human diseases such as breast cancer, cardiac development and function, neurologic diseases, memory and other phenomena.

Dr. Gerry Johnston, associate dean of research at Dalhousie Medical School, sees a growing need for these facilities at Dalhousie.

“The conduct of research is increasingly dependent on sophisticated technologies that often require these specialized facilities,” he said. “The new zebrafish core facility is one such example of an emerging technology that will equip our researchers with modern tools to explore human health and disease.

“Researchers around the world will have access to the lab,” he added. “They’ll be able to carry out their own research by ordering stock zebrafish from Dalhousie, request customized zebrafish breeding, or work with our faculty here on a range of on-site studies.”

Funding for the zebrafish lab came from the Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation, Dalhousie Medical School, Dalhousie University, the Department of Pediatrics, the Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, the Centre for Drug Research and Development (CDRD) and Irving Shipbuilding.

Reported by Cory Burris, Dalhousie University