The world has noticed UAB’s commitment to expanding medical research. UAB’s latest research runs the gamut from improving existing cancer treatments such as radiation therapy, to discovering the genetic markers of previously-unknown disorders as in the Alabama Genomic Health Initiative. This article is about something entirely different: hormonal mutant zebrafish.
Daniel Gorelick, Ph.D., hypothesizes that xenoestrogens, or chemicals that mimic estrogen, in our environment influence how well (or poorly) our hearts function. Estrogen, as far as we know, does not directly influence heart function. But it does influence our brain, which in turn influences our thyroid, which in turn influences our heart. Dr. Gorelick’s research specifically focuses on the GPER, or G protein-coupled estrogen receptor.
Dr. Gorelick created four mutations in his test subjects. Each mutation related to estrogen reception. One discovery? Xenoestrogens don’t just “influence gonad function,” they “may also influence cardiac function.”
Why zebrafish? The fish grow quickly, so any experiment has a relatively short turnaround time. Even better, as Zebrafish grow, their cardiovascular development mimics that of humans. The best part? Zebrafish don’t actually need a cardiovascular system, so what ethical concerns there might be in breeding fish without a properly functioning heart can be tossed out the window!
What does this discovery mean for us? Nothing right this very second. But in the future, I see this having impacts on environmental activism and conservation. And maybe this link could be exploited to develop new drugs which regulate heart function.