Zebrafish Swim into Labs of MS Researchers

In Brief:

  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a neurodegenerative disease affecting over 2.5 million people around the world (Monk).
  • Currently there is no cure for MS.
  • Researchers are exploring the zebrafish, which is genetically similar to humans, to find a cure.

Megan was fresh out of college with a bachelor’s degree in marine biology. An expert on minnows, she loved studying zebrafish, which are fast becoming a favorite model for medical researchers. She enjoyed travelling to the tropics where she could swim and observe marine life close-up. But soon after graduation, Megan was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Ready to pursue a promising career, she had no idea of how this incurable disease would affect her future and her dreams.

Approximately 400,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with MS, most of whom are between the ages of 20 and 50. Dr. David Lyons of the University of Edinburgh and Dr. Kelly Monk of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are two of the many scientists researching MS around the world, and both are studying the zebrafish as they race to find a cure.

[Graphic by Staff Illustrator]

[Graphic by Staff Illustrator]

What is MS?
Nerves in the human body act as messengers. They are insulated by a special layer known as the myelin sheath, which relays electrical signals to the brain which instruct our bodies to perform basic actions and movements. Patients with MS have an immune system that attacks their myelin sheath (Dugdale, 2013), blocking vital messages from reaching the brain and hindering normal responses. MS is a neurodegenerative disease, meaning the damage to the structure and function of these nerves accumulates over time. Megan became concerned when she had blurred vision, numbness, and dizziness, early indicators of MS. Patients gradually experience the loss of essential functions, which may include an inability to swallow, speak, or walk.

How can zebrafish help?
Dr. Monk and Dr. Lyons are fishing for answers in the tropical zebrafish. Since zebrafish are about 70% similar to humans in their protein-coding genes, Dr. Lyons looks for genes in the zebrafish genome that control the rebuilding of the myelin sheath. Interestingly, the molecules used to create the myelin sheath in newborns are the same molecules used to create myelin in adults. Therefore, genes that code for the creation of myelin are still present in MS patients; it’s just a matter of locating them. Fortunately, Lyons and his team have been able to target some of these genes, giving them better understanding of which molecules repair the myelin sheath after immune cells attack. Their goal is to repair the damaged myelin sheath to allow proper messages to be sent through nerves. Dr. Monk and her research team have a different approach to understanding myelin sheath repair. They genetically screen zebrafish to uncover neuron receptors and have successfully found a receptor that can instruct certain cells to remake myelin. These MS researchers are optimistic about finding a cure, giving hope to Megan, who is now studying her favorite fish to learn even more about her own disease.

Works Cited

This article was written by cYw41. As always, before leaving a response to this article please view our Rules of Conduct. Thanks! -cYw Editorial Staff


Author: cYw41

Hey everyone, and welcome to cYw! I am a first time writer for this awesome organization which makes people aware of the truly beneficial effects animals can have on the world. I feel honored to be given the privilege to make people aware of the positive contributions animals are making in the biomedical field. I also write science poetry for cYw, which is the integration of creative poetry and science. I really enjoy science, specifically biology. In college, I know I definitely want to major in the biological sciences. I’m very much interested in the study of viruses and virology and have aspirations of possibly working for the CDC as a research scientist as a researcher of infectious diseases. Other than my academic interests, I also play soccer and swim as well. I’m also an avid fan of CSI: Miami and House. Hopefully you have found interest in my article and have learned something, and thanks for spending the time to read it!!

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    This article was very useful for my project on testing with zebrafish to find a cure for MS. The article was concise, but had a lot of information for me to use! Do you know how the scientists genetically screen the zebrafish? Thank you!

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    Hello cYw41, I’m Alex, a freshman in high school! I had the pleasure of reading your article, Zebrafish Swim into Labs of MS Researchers, for my STEM class at my school and we did a project/presentation on your topic for our class. I learned quite a bit from your article, especially about the disease of MS, which I did not know could be so impactful to a person’s life. I also learned quite a bit about the human body, especially about the myelin sheath and how this neurodegenerative disease damages it. I like how you ended, hopeful for the future with this possible cure, which would repair the myelin sheath by uncovering molecules in humans that can do so, just like in the zebrafish. Just three quick questions: Why did you choose to research MS? Also, How did you find out about Megan’s story (which was a good incorporation into your article)? Lastly, has there been any more progression with this research for a cure for MS? Thank you very much and I hope that your studies in biological sciences go well!

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    Thanks for publishing this article. This really helps me understand the effects of multiple sclerosis. Since the researchers have found some of the genes, will the rest of the process be easier/faster? This article was a great way to get people a general understanding of the disease, and then telling of the uses of the zebra fish. Congratulations on your first article.

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