Researchers use zebrafish to follow trajectory of cancer cells

Avatar By Lliane Hunter | 2 years ago

Researchers are using a type of zebrafish that produces fluorescent tags in its cells to find the origins of the third-most common pediatric cancer in the United States, reports Jade Boyd-Rice for Futurity. In humans, neural crest cells are the point of origin for neuroblastoma, a common pediatric cancer. Rosa Uribe, assistant professor of biosciences at Rice University, and her team are using zebrafish to reveal clues about the origin of the disease.

Research shows that SOX10 is one of more than 20 varieties of SOX proteins that regulate rapid cell division in embryos, writes Boyd-Rice. These same proteins are often found activated in cancer cells. Uribe believes that finding the “off” switch for SOX10 in neural crest cells could potentially lead to treatments for cancers where they play a role. “Neural crest cells are stem cells that form from the earliest portion of our central nervous system, the neural tube,” Uribe says. “They express SOX10 in addition to a bunch of other really important genes.” The researchers use zebrafish for several reasons, including their ability to breed and develop a new batch of embryos quickly. Importantly, the fish are transparent, which means researchers can watch what’s happening inside them while they are alive.

Uribe and her team are able to immobilize live embryos and take photographs to trace their development over a period of hours—they track and observe the neural crest cells, which first appear in zebrafish embryos about 12 hours after fertilization. “For the migration time-lapse images there is software that’s capable of following individual cells for hours,” Uribe explains. Having the ability to observe neural crest cells from the moment they form until they finish migrating is one key to understanding them.