Zebrafish Offers Insight into Human Diseases

Vala Hafstað

For the past years, the Icelandic pharmaceutical company 3Z, based in Reykjavík, has conducted research on genetically altered zebrafish to obtain information on diseases that affect humans. The research has been focused on diseases of the central nervous system – a system that is comparable in zebrafish and humans, Karl Ægir Karlsson, managing director of 3Z and professor at Reykjavík University, tells Morgunblaðið.

He mentions MND, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, sleep disorders and ADHD, as examples.

For the past semesters, the focus has been on the search for medicines, on development and tests, as well as on basic research.

The company is working on applying for a patent for medications which in recent years have been discovered through drug screening.

Zebrafish are believed to be well suited for research of the role and function of genes and have, among other things, been used to simulate human diseases.

Karl states that the company genetically modifies zebrafish, in addition to importing genetically modified zebrafish with specific genetic defects. At any given point in time, the company houses thousands of fish, researching part of them.

“If the genetics behind a disease is known, then we attempt to simulate that variability and recreate it in a zebrafish,” Karl explains.

When that is done successfully, the same kinds of disease symptoms can been replicated in the fish. “Subsequently, we attempt  to create behavioral analysis, using artificial vision, to distinguish between mutated and healthy fish,” he continues. “That way, we have the indicators we need to start searching for medications for the disease, or we can focus on the central nervous system and try to understand what exactly the difference involves.”

The Environment Agency of Iceland recently granted 3Z license for the limited use of genetically modified zebrafish, which is good through 2035.

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