Benefits

Helen Dunnett

Zebrafish at the cutting edge of heart research

Helen Dunnett May 3rd, 2011 No Comments

There has been some buzz online recently at the new funding raising strategy of the British Heart Foundation. As it attempts to raise an ambitious 50m pounds to fund groundbreaking heart research, it is openly showing the need for animal research and testing in its promotional campaign.

I don’t know if this kind of awareness and fund raising is ‘a first’, none-the-less it is certainly honest and brave; particularly in a country of animal lovers and a recent history of outspoken animal rights activism.

So what’s behind the fundraising? Researchers have been studying the tiny zebrafish to understand its ability to rebuild its own damaged heart cells. The hope being, if we can understand how they do it, it will lead to finding a way to coax human hearts to repair themselves after injury brought on by a heart attack. Within five years the foundation hopes to see the beginning of early clinical (human) trials and within 10 years, full trials. Within a further decade, people living with heart failure could literally be healing their own hearts.

To learn from the zebrafish, researchers remove about 20% of its heart, and then they monitor the fish over a couple of weeks as the heart regenerates. Apparently the zebrafish struggle to swim for a few days, but within a month appears to be perfectly normal. Traditionally heart disease research was performed on mice and guinea pigs, however the zebrafish and its larvae have helped to minimize their use.

In the UK alone, heart failure affects over 750,000 people a year, with the problem only growing. When you have a heart attack, a part of the heart muscle dies. This irreversible damage can lead to heart failure as the heart is not pumping as efficiently as it should. Common causes are lack of exercise, poor diet, smoking, drinking, high blood pressure and stress.

I am glad to see that part of the British Heart Foundation’s campaign also includes the promotion of a change in lifestyle, which could positively impact the upward trend in heart disease. I’m sure the Zebrafish would appreciate it too.

Visit the British Heart Foundation to learn more about this work.

He's not just a fish. He's hope

 

  The Science of the Zebrafish

 

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