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Berman Zebrafish Laboratory, IWK Health Centre
Innovation Excellence

IWK Jason










L-R: (Back) Award Presenters, Barry, Matthew, and Olivia Mason, Berman Zebrafish Lab Team 

Innovative, and diverse with a goal of developing a more personalized approach to cancer treatment, the Berman Zebrafish Laboratory at the IWK Health Centre was the recipient of the 2012 Innovation Excellence Award. The Cancer Research Lab led by Dr. Jason Berman, a pediatric hematologist/oncologist with the IWK Health Centre and clinician-scientist with Dalhousie University and lab manager, Mr. Ameer Jarrar, use zebrafish instead of mice to understand how cancer develops and for testing drugs which may inhibit its growth and spread.

“Zebrafish and humans have a lot in common, including very similar blood cells,” says Ameer. “They are also easier and less costly to house and maintain.” Another advantage of zebrafish is their see-through skin as embryos, which enables researchers to watch how the cancer cells travel through the body, grow and multiply just by looking at a live animal under the microscope.

The lab’s research falls into three main categories: Genetically altering the fish to better understand normal blood cell development; injecting the fish with human cancer genes and then treating the fish with a number of different drugs to see which are most effective, and finally and perhaps most exciting is the xenotransplantation project, where cells are collected from cancer patients, injected into two-day old fish embryos and then tested with a number of drugs to see how the cancer responds to the drug therapy. “This is an innovative and more personalized approach to cancer care,” says Ameer. He explains that the team often invites young cancer patients to visit the lab, so they can see how drugs are being tested in the zebrafish with the ultimate goal of finding drugs to treat their cancer more effectively.

Although the Berman lab is the only one of its kind in Canada, the team collaborates with many other labs around the world. The team includes graduate students, undergraduate students, post-doctoral fellows, research associates, technicians, and student volunteers. There is no doubt that the Berman lab has the potential to radically improve the outcomes for children and adults with cancer across the province and across the country.



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