New animal models for biomedical and biotechnology research: The zebrafish

Juan Martín-Caballero at the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park animal facilities – Photo: © Diario Médico

The zebrafish (Danio rerio) is frequently used in drug discovery and key aspects of developmental biology. Mostly because of its quick development time (its organs are fully formed after just 48 hours) and transparent embryos. Above all, in research into regenerative medicine, because the fish is able to regenerate part of its caudal fin or, even, more than half of its heart. One of the main lines of research carried out with this animal model is that to discover the genes involved in regenerative processes. Several researchers at the PRBB have recently published work related to this topic in important scientific journals.

At the PRBB facilities, we have dozens of different strains of this fish, with 4,500 aquariums that can hold 50,000 adult fish. Hundreds of mutations of this species have already been created to study multiple human and animal illnesses, as it can be genetically modified easily and in a short time, only a few weeks, the effects of the genetic modification or chemical compound in question can be seen. As fertilization in this species is external, it isn’t necessary to euthanize the female in order to extract the embryos like in rodents.

The US FDA has calculated that up to $100 millions could be saved in drug discovery costs if the initial screening to select possible molecules was carried out on zebrafish embryos. This small fish, which measures only three or four centimeters in length at the adult stage, makes a great animal model, laying some 200 eggs per week. Its social impact is much lower as an animal model for biomedical and biotechnology research, and from a legal standpoint the use of embryos from this fish, which is less than five days old, isn’t subject to the European regulations that apply to any vertebrate used for scientific research.

This is an extract of the expert article by Juan Martin Caballero, director of the PRBB animal facility published at Biocat, the bioregion of Catalonia.

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