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What can tiny fish teach us about cancer research?

Danio rerio, better known as zebrafish, have been making a splash in cancer research―that’s because they lead to more personalized treatments and reduced side effects. What do these tiny vertebrates and humans have in common genetically? A lot more than you may think.

On this episode of Boldly, Tamara Mason, Director, Corporate Communications and Marketing at Joule, speaks with Dr. Jason Berman―the Principal Investigator at The Berman Zebrafish Lab. In this unique conversation, they cover a cancer research model you might not expect… with a tiny tropical fish known as the zebrafish.

tweetable: We know that cancer cells behave differently when they’re in a petri dish than when they’re in a human.

Dr. Berman shares how he is leading research that will pave the way to new understanding of cancer cells and how those cells react in different bodies. Through transplanting cancer cells and testing treatment with zebrafish, Dr. Berman gets into some of the knowledge he’s gained and how it can benefit patients.

tweetable: Cancer therapy has come a long way.

What makes zebrafish stand out as a lab subject in cancer? How does that enable a more tailored approach to therapy? And what are the future possibilities for cancer research with them? Find out all that and more on this episode of Boldly


Key takeaways

What makes zebrafish so unique―and how can they be beneficial in the treatment of cancer over more traditional methods?

  • With zebrafish, it’s easy to see what’s going on in a developmental point-of-view.
  • They generate many offspring.
  • They fertilize outside of the womb.
  • We are able to easily collect all of the offspring.
  • We can take human cancer cells and transplant them into the zebrafish larvae to see how they behave.
  • The zebrafish don’t reject the cells.
  • With this model, we can screen more drugs faster than with other methods.

tweetable: What’s unique about zebrafish is we think they’re evolutionally perfectly positioned between more simple models like cells or yeast or fruit flies and more complex models like mice because they are vertebrates like humans.

Why is it important to provide customized treatment for each patient?

  • We can now identify specific mutations and use targeted therapies to specifically address those mutations.
  • Each patient will respond to drugs differently.
  • Getting specific information on the particular cancer, how someone handles certain drugs and putting those together results in tailored therapy and reduced side-effects for the patient.

tweetable: We think the fish is a really good model for being able to confirm that a specific mutation leads to a specific disease and then finding treatments to improve that disease.

What’s in store for the Zebrafish Lab in the future?

  • Transplant models.
  • Using genetic models in the fish so they have similar genes to humans.
  • Using the fish to screen for different drugs that can improve that abnormality.
  • Finding the safest ways to treat patients.


To get more insights from Dr. Jason Berman, follow the Berman Lab on Twitter.


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The opinions stated by podcast participants are made in a personal capacity and do not reflect those of the Canadian Medical Association and its subsidiaries including Joule. Joule does not endorse any views, product, service, association, company or industry mentioned in this podcast.