Expert’s Corner: How zebrafish are helping to unlock melanoma genetics

By Bryan Goodchild and Jim Fessenden

UMass Medical School Communications

August 13, 2014

Cutting-edge research aimed at helping the soaring number of Americans diagnosed with skin cancer is underway at UMass Medical School.

Craig J. Ceol, PhD, is using the zebrafish to study melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, and melanocytes, the pigment-producing cells in human skin that can become cancerous melanoma.  Over the last 40 years, melanoma rates have increased more than 200 percent, and melanoma is now the most common form of cancer in adults between the ages of 25 and 29.

Because the zebrafish has similar melanocytes to those found in humans, Dr. Ceol, assistant professor of molecular medicine, and other scientists are using the translucent fish to identify genes responsible for melanoma, with the hope of identifying new targets for potential treatments.

Calling skin cancer a “major public health problem that requires immediate action,” Boris Lushniak, acting Surgeon General,  recently issued a call to action to prevent the disease and halt the increase in melanoma cases.