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Developing nerve cells in the zebrafish brain and retina. Two populations of nerve cells can be recognised, labelled in red and green. (Image © Michael Harrison and Dr Vincent Cunliffe)
Researchers from the MRC Centre for Developmental and Biomedical Genetics at the University of Sheffield are using genetically modified zebrafish to help understand the progress of human disease. Zebrafish, a tropical minnow-like fish, is an excellent model system for the study of human disease. By modifying zebrafish with a jellyfish fluorescent protein, the researchers are able to ‘tag’ cells, organs and sub-cellular components, allowing researchers to follow body systems in both healthy and diseased animals.
"Understanding how our bodies work, and what changes cause disease, is a major medical challenge," says Professor Philip Ingham from the University of Sheffield. "By using these fluorescent transgenic zebrafish we can probe the function of genes involved in maintaining healthy cells, information that can provide vital clues about the causes and progression of diseases that afflict humans."
Zebrafish are used to model human disease mechanisms allowing researchers to not only view the progress of the disease through ‘glowing’ cells and organs, but also to help develop novel drug discovery programmes. Zebrafish can be used to research a broad range of human diseases, from neurodegenerative, cardiovascular and musculoskeletal diseases to cancer.
"Discoveries of how cells and tissues work are being translated into new ways of understanding a broad range of human diseases," says Philip. "Zebrafish may hold the key to making major advances in medical science."
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