Edinburgh scientists breed zebrafish with 'melanoma gene'

In collaboration with the Press Association

Researchers at Edinburgh University have engineered zebrafish to carry a version of a gene, B-Raf, which is associated with malignant melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.

The team hopes that the genetically-modified fish will provide a suitable model to study the disease's development and develop new treatments.

The role of B-Raf in skin cancer was first discovered by Cancer Research UK-funded scientists, who found that it is damaged in more than seven out of ten melanomas.

Now, the Edinburgh team has found that fish carrying mutant copies of the B-Raf gene develop moles on their skin. They plan to expose the fish to UV light in order to analyse expected changes in the moles and determine the factors that make skin cancer so prevalent.

Dr Elizabeth Patton, a researcher at Edinburgh University, commented: "The vast majority of melanomas have the same damage in the B-Raf gene."

She also pointed out: "This gene is also found in many harmless moles, which suggest that on its own, it is not enough to make cells become cancerous. There must be other factors involved."

Dr Patton explained that both human and fish skin have a type of cell called a melanocyte, which can give rise to melanomas.

"We have bred a special strain of zebrafish which carries exactly the same gene found in human moles and melanomas - and we can activate this gene in the fish melanocyte cells.

"This causes these fish to develop dark spots, which are very similar to moles in humans."

Dr Mark Matfield, scientific adviser at the Association of International Cancer Research (AICR), which funded the research, commented: "The more we understand about the causes of melanomas, the greater the opportunity to find out how to stop them growing and develop new treatments for them."

He added: "With the incidence of melanomas doubling every 15 years, and more than 2,000 premature deaths every year in the UK, there is a desperate need for new and better treatments."