Ed Yeates ReportingAlong with its human patients, the University of Utah Medical Center is caring for thousands and thousands of Zebra fish, nearly 200,000 of them in 6,000 aquariums.
You have to have special clearance to get in their room because, though they’re fish, they are very special.
Dr. Richard Dorksy, U of U Neurobiology & Anatomy: "They're a vertebrate organism just like a mouse, so they have a lot of the same organs that humans do -- brain, heart, blood, muscle."
If you want to understand more about human diseases and defects humans are born with, observe what happens in these fish. Zebra eggs are transparent so medical researchers can see from the outside what goes wrong with an embryo from the beginning, almost from the development of a single cell.
Dr. Richard Dorksy: "And when we make mutations in them or find naturally occurring mutations, we can actually observe what goes wrong in the living animal."
What triggers a subtle mutation? How does the disease progress? What effect does if have as the fish is born and grows into adulthood? Zebra fish let you monitor all these things. And then, when it comes time to try out possible treatments or cures?
Dr. Richard Dorksy: "Zebra fish, you can put them in a little plate and add different drugs to them and see how the drugs counteract the disease. You can also do that genetically to see in you replace a faulty gene, does it rescue the development of the fish."
The University Medical Center has quite an investment -- 20-million dollars in grants spread out among ten different labs to study diseases and treatments in zebras. And the keepers of these aquariums raise a new generation of any given family of fish every six months. A fish tale? You better believe it - because this one is true.
The University is now looking to hire someone to oversee the zebra aquariums and coordinate research among the various labs.
Interested applicants may get details or apply online referencing Job #18368.