Historical interest in zebrafish
Until recently, the main thrust of research using zebrafish Danio rerio as a model system came from developmental biologists and geneticists. The handy ability to watch the development of embryos and the biological processes of adult fish, combined with the rapid generation time, enabled researchers to obtain insights into mechanisms and processes that were translatable to many aspects of human biology.
Zebrafish as a laboratory model system
It was also apparent, though, that cancerous growths could be observed in zebrafish. This has led to the increasing exploration of zebrafish as a model system for studying cancer. Although certainly there are divergences from the human processes, many of the genes and pathways involved in triggering abnormal cell growth are comparable.
The tractable zebrafish can be treated with compounds that induce cancerous growth. They can be genetically modified to be susceptible to developing certain cancers. Human cancerous cells can even be transplanted into zebrafish and are easily monitored. Screens for potential therapeutics can be quickly performed in the zebrafish culture systems to provide leads for drug development.
An active zebrafish research community, with many tools in their genetics, genomics, and visualization tool boxes, ensures that these small fish will find a place in the large pond of cancer research, and that those efforts will benefit human health.