Health Team

Tropical fish experiments fight fatal hormonal disease

Posted September 20, 2011

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— Tiny, striped tropical fish could hold the help needed by people with a rare, fatal, hormonal disorder with few treatment options.

At Cedars Sinai Medical Center, researchers are experimenting on zebra fish to try out hundreds of drugs that could fight Cushing's Disease.

"The genetic makeup of zebra fish and our genetic makeup are remarkably similar, with very few differences," said Dr. Shlomo Melmed, an endocrinologist and vice president at Cedars Sinai.

In people with Cushing's, a tumor on the pituitary gland causes it to produce too much of the hormone cortisol. That affects blood pressure and metabolism and can lead to diabetes, heart disease and death.

Zebra fish X-ray Tropical fish experiments fight fatal hormonal disease

Cushing's afflicts about one in 100,000 people, nearly all of them women. Symptoms include a puffy face, sudden weight gain, skin changes and irritability.

As researchers test up to 300 drugs each week on zebra fish, they can watch the growth of the fish's pituitary glands from the first cell.

"The beauty of zebra fish embryos is they're transparent, and as we introduce florescent markers, we can follow them," endocrinologist Dr. Ning-Ai Lui said.

Green markers show normal pituitary gland growth, while red indicates the tumor. Using the markers, researchers watch how drugs affect tumor growth.

With no drug treatment available for Cushing's, Cedars Sinai scientists hope their research will lead to new options.

"Our goal is to discover a medical therapy for Cushing's Disease – a medical therapy to control the tumor growth," Melmed said.


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  • davidvanwagener Sep 21, 2011

    Best of luck Shellbug.

  • shellbug067 Sep 20, 2011

    So glad you guys did a segment on Cushings Disease with Dr. Mask. I have Cushings Disease along with reoccurance of a pituitary tumor that I have been dealing with since I was younger. I had brain surgery in 2004 to remove the tumor only to have it come back again. This January I had brain surgery again and also had Gamma Knife surgery in March to hopefully burn off the remaining tumor cells. It's a tough disease that can cripple your life. The tumor and disease almost killed me but with early treatment you can get some of your life back. I actually go tomorrow to UVA in Virginia for a follow up MRI to determine if I am in remission! I certainly hope so!