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Zebrafish Models Identify Genetic Features Connected to Leukemia

University of Utah

By Jenny Brundin

Salt Lake City, UT – Researchers at the Huntsman Cancer Institute have identified high-risk genetic features in one form of leukemia known as T-cell cancer. They hope it will help children with leukemia get the right kind of chemotherapy.

For this particular discovery, Dr. Kimble Frazer , assistant professor of pediatrics and his colleagues at the University of Utah used a common aquarium fish, a zebrafish, the one with the stripes head to tail.

FRAZER: People have them in their home aquariums. You can get them for .75 cents at pet smart.

In humans, you can diagnose T-cell cancer through a chest x-ray, finding cancer cells in blood or bone marrow, or by doing a biopsy of a lymph node. The reason this type of zebra fish works well to identify genetic features is that it's a transgenic line of zebra fish, that is, the fish have a gene from another species.

FRAZER: This transgene that they put into the zebrafish allows their T-cells to glow green.

So the researchers found out what was wrong genetically with the zebrafish cancer cells. Those same genetic features in human patients with T-cell cancer allowed scientists to predict which patients may have more aggressive forms of the disease. Nikolaus Trede, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the U of U School of Medicine, HCI investigator, is a senior author of the article. He says eighty percent of children with leukemia can be cured but twenty percent don't respond to treatment or relapse later.

TREDE: So if we could identify them upfront and give them high intensity chemotherapy, maybe even tailored to their particular disease. That would hopefully decrease the number of children who would have a bad outcome in the end.

The study was published Monday in the on-line version of the journal Oncogene.

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