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Zebrafish provide insights into causes and treatment of human diseases

•, Phyllis Edelman
 At the 2012 International Zebrafish Development Conference, held June 20-24 in Madison, Wisconsin, numerous presentations highlighted the utility of the zebrafish for examining the basic biological mechanisms underlying human disorders and identifying potential treatment approaches for an impressive array of organ and systemic diseases.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), while rarely fatal, can have a substantial negative impact on an individual's quality of life due to abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, bleeding, and severe cramps. The causes of this chronic inflammatory disorder are largely unknown and existing treatments, usually anti-inflammatory drugs, are often not effective. In addition, IBD is often associated with increased risk of developing intestinal cancer.

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh are using zebrafish to study the biological mechanisms that lead to intestinal inflammation, as often seen in IBD, providing additional understanding that may allow development of better therapies. Prakash Thakur, a research associate working with Nathan Bahary, M.D., Ph.D., described a mutant zebrafish strain that shows many pathological characteristics similar to IBD, including inflammation, abnormal villous architecture, disorganized epithelial cells, increased bacterial growth and high numbers of dying cells in the intestine.

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