Tanks of fish stored in an Auckland lab may soon contribute to a much-needed breakthrough in the treatment of blood cancers.
Researchers hope that by mapping their DNA they will be able to pinpoint which genes are causing different types of the disease to grow in humans, paving the way for personalised drugs to treat them.
Zebra fish are used in many research projects at Auckland University's med school lab but a new trial aims to use the tiny swimmers to help unlock the genetic key to blood cancers like leukaemia.
You can see the cells if they're growing or shrinking in response to treatment.- Professor Peter Browett
The genetic make-up of the fish is 84 per cent the same as humans and the fact they reproduce very quickly and are see-through means researchers can genetically-engineer them to replicate and mimic cancer cell growth in humans.
The university's two-year-old blood cancer research unit - set up by a million dollar initial gift from Leukaemia and Blood Cancer New Zealand (LBC) - is leading that charge.
The 18 strong team of scientists will use zebra fish in conjunction with the country's first genome mapping machine, a $500,000 investment paid for with 'Shave for a Cure' fundraising money.
Professor Peter Browett says genetic information will be gathered from newly diagnosed patients and affected cells will be injected into the fish to see if they develop a leukaemia and also to see if other genes are involved.
The genome mapping machine is key to that analysis which Professor Browett says has the power and technology to look at a whole panel of genes.
LBC chief executive Pru Etcheverry says we're entering the era of precision medicine which sees medicines matched to patients' individual genetic characteristics.