University scientists in new fishy discovery

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Experts from Sheffield University are developing new treatments for a genetic disorder – with the help of some fishy friends.

Scientists working in the city’s centre for developmental and biomedical genetics has found new therapeutic approaches to help ease the symptoms of Charcot Marie tooth disease – which causes progressive weakness and long-term pain in the feet, leading to walking difficulties.

Zebrafish, which come from India and Bangladesh, were used to examine ways of treating the incurable condition, which affects about 20,000 people in the UK, as the species shares the same genetic defect that causes it in humans.

Dr Andrew Grierson said: “The fish develop normally, but once they reach adulthood they start to develop difficulties swimming.

“By looking at the muscles of these fish, we have discovered the problem lies with the connections between motor neurons and muscle, which are known to be essential for walking in humans and also swimming in fish.”

Dr Grierson and his team are now seeking funding to identify new treatments for CMT using the zebrafish model.

Because of their size and unique biology, zebrafish are ideal to be used in drug screens for the identification of new therapies for untreatable human conditions.

The £18 million centre Sheffield University houses state-of-the-art laboratories and equipment, including a clinical database of more than 1,500 patients and the largest resource of human brain-bank material in the world.

It is also home to the UK’s largest zebrafish aquarium, which was opened up to residents as part of the Medical Research Council’s anniversary celebrations.