Event Report: 1st Malaysia Zebrafish Disease Model Workshop 2015

by Dr. Kazuhide Shaun Okuda

Zebrafish (Danio rerio) is a small freshwater fish native to the Himalayan region and a popular pet in Malaysia. The zebrafish has been used as a model for many human diseases such as cancer, neurodegenerative diseases and tuberculosis. Although relatively new compared to the mouse model, the zebrafish model has also been very attractive to scientist due to the unique advantages that it offers, such as optical transparency of its embryos, the ability to produce large number of eggs at a go, fast growth/development cycle, ease of genetic manipulation and the low cost of maintenance. Despite a widespread interest in the zebrafish model, it is still under-utilised among the scientific communities in Malaysia. There has also been a lack of communication between Malaysian zebrafish research laboratories which have seen slow progress in opportunities for collaborative research efforts.

To tackle this, Cancer Research Malaysia, together with University of Malaya (UM) and Monash University Malaysia jointly initiated the 1st Malaysia Zebrafish Disease Model Workshop on 11 and 12 November 2015. The 2-day workshop was held in Subang Jaya, Selangor and was attended by nearly 70 scientists from prominent local universities and scientific institutes such as National University of Malaysia (UKM), University of Science Malaysia (USM), University Putra Malaysia (UPM), Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) and Malaysian Nuclear Agency. There were also international participants from India and USA.

The objectives of this meeting were:

  • to provide a platform for Malaysian investigators, postdoctoral researchers and students working or planning to work in the zebrafish field to learn about the latest developments in the zebrafish model for human disease,
  • to present data and share techniques on zebrafish research and husbandry, and
  • to have the opportunity to interact with highly regarded international and local zebrafish experts.

Welcoming remarks were given by Prof. Teo Soo Hwang (CEO of Cancer Research Malaysia), followed by keynote presentations by Prof. Philip Stanley Crosier (University of Auckland) and Prof. Alexander Chong Shu Chien (USM).

Using zebrafish systems in drug discovery

Prof. Crosier explained how the zebrafish model can be used to identify drugs that block tumour-associated lymphatic vessel growth and chronic inflammation.

Gaining insights into human disease using zebrafish

Prof. Crosier shared how the zebrafish platform can be used to model various human diseases such as leukaemia, tuberculosis, chronic inflammation, and in more detail, how the zebrafish model has revealed key molecular mechanisms for haematopoietic stem cell regeneration and immunometabolism. These models can be used to identify drugs that are useful for treatment of these human diseases. For example, the zebrafish tuberculosis model was used to identify anti-angiogenic drugs SU5416 and pazopanib as promising therapeutic agents for tuberculosis in humans.

Earning your stripes: zebrafish research in Malaysia

Prof. Chien shared his experience in establishing the first zebrafish laboratory in Malaysia and how external collaboration is the key to success in this field.

The workshop also covered a wider range of topics regarding zebrafish including:

Targeted natural product drug discovery by zebrafish phenotypic assay
Dr. Pei Jean Tan from the Cancer Research Malaysia explained how zebrafish phenotypes can be used as a readout to identify drugs/compounds that have biomedical uses.

Using zebrafish to investigate human cancers and identify novel therapies
Dr. Vyomesh Patel from the Cancer Research Malaysia shared about the available human cancer models in zebrafish and how these can be utilised to identify novel therapies.

Xenotransplantation and drug discovery using zebrafish
Dr. Kazuhide Shaun Okuda from the Cancer Research Malaysia showcased how the zebrafish model can be used to identify drugs that target blood/lymphatic vessels and explained how human cancer cells can be transplanted on zebrafish.

Skin colour as a model phenotype for testing human coding polymorphisms in zebrafish
Dr. Khai Chung Ang from the Penn State College of Medicine, USA lectured about how the zebrafish model can be used to understand the genetic changes responsible for the variation in skin colour across the globe and its impact on cancer susceptibility.

The use of the zebrafish model in anxiety and related mood disorders
Dr. Satoshi Ogawa from the Monash University Malaysia talked about how the zebrafish model can be used to conduct behavioural studies to better understand the molecular mechanisms of human anxiety and related mood disorders.

Am I losing my mind? Zebrafish larvae as a neurodegenerative model
Dr Anwar Norazit from UM spoke about how the zebrafish model can be used to study neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington disease.

Managing a zebrafish laboratory: They’re just fish and we need eggs
Dr Suzita Mohd Noor from UM gave an invaluable input on how to manage a zebrafish facility to ensure optimum and sustained egg production.

Institutional ethics – Fishy business
Dr Syahar Amir A. Gani from UM discussed about ethical considerations of zebrafish research in Malaysia

One of the highlights of the meeting was the prize-giving ceremony for the best oral presentation. The award was presented to Ms. Vithya Velaithan from Cancer Research Malaysia who presented a paper titled “Novel Inhibitors of Notch Signalling Identified from Zebrafish Phenotypic Assay”. The workshop was deemed a huge success and will be organised as an annual event in the future.

About the author

Dr. Kazuhide Shaun Okuda is a postdoctoral scientist with the Drug Discovery team at Cancer Research Malaysia and was the lead organiser of the 1st Malaysia Zebrafish Disease Model Workshop 2015. Check out Dr Okuda’s Scientific Malaysian profile at http://www.scientificmalaysian.com/members/koku003/.

Further reading:

A meeting report titled “Sprouting Buds of Zebrafish Research in Malaysia: First Malaysia Zebrafish Disease Model Workshop” had been published in the scientific journal Zebrafish:
Okuda, K.S., P.J. Tan, and V. Patel, Sprouting Buds of Zebrafish Research in Malaysia: First Malaysia Zebrafish Disease Model Workshop. Zebrafish, 2016.