Laboratory Experts In Zebrafish Models

Anton Barreiro leads a research team from the USC that is looking for a solution for the 35,000 people who suffer from this disease in Spain. They do it through the model of zebrafish model, able to recover spontaneously and go back to swimming in a matter of weeks.

Since finishing his doctoral thesis in the field of neuroscience in 2010, this young researcher from the University of Santiago (USC) was clear that he wanted to work on something that had greater application and benefits. Antón Barreiro understood that his experience as a student of the organization and development of the lamprey’s nervous system could help him to explore other avenues of investigation. Groups in the United States used this same animal as a model in spinal cord injuries and then decided to take the step and jump the puddle. “It seemed like a very interesting field, it caught my attention and I applied for a place in the United States,” he tells ABC. He also worked in London and Scotland, until last year he had the opportunity to return to Spain.

From the Department of Functional Biology of the University of Santiago de Compostela (USC), Barreiro co-operated with Maria Celina Rodicio a project of spinal regeneration in which they work with zebrafish. “We basically produce a spinal cord injury in these animals and they, on their own and in a matter of weeks, are able to swim again,” he explains, noting that “this does not happen in humans, who lose the capacity for mobility and sensitivity after an injury, since we are not able to regenerate the axons -prolongation of the neurons that transmit nerve impulses- of brain neurons that thread the spinal cord ». “Our goal is to ensure that, like fish, people recover from this type of injury”, he admits, “they are very complex”.

A solution for the 35,000 people in Spain who suffer from this ailment, caused in most cases by traffic accidents and which produces irreparable damage for which there is no treatment that facilitates their functional recovery.

 “I believe that if we contribute our grain of sand in each of our respective disciplines and fields of research, we would achieve many advances. This would be ideal, “he says, asked about the results he expects in the future. “If we managed to enter the clinical phase – in tests with humans – and with positive results, it would be the culmination,” he says. But for this it would still be “a lot of work and years ahead,” he acknowledges.

Financing campaign

“If with our work we could find a drug that promotes axonal regeneration in zebrafish, in the future we will try to transfer these results to the recovery of patients with spinal cord damage,” he says. To this end, they have launched a campaign to finance the project “Search for drugs for axonal regeneration after spinal cord injury” selected to participate in the FECYT Precipita portal. The minimum to guarantee the study was 2,000 euros and already exceed 3,000, with what “will be financed and there is still time to improve this figure”, in the words of Barreiro. The amount depends on the number of drug libraries, “to reach the 10,000 euros that we set as a maximum would be a dream, since the more drugs we have the greater the chances of advancing in the cure”. The first 2,000 euros also cover the purchase of the necessary antibodies to visualize the study neuron. “The project is planned for one or two years. It will depend on financing, “he says.

Regarding the choice of zebrafish against other more common laboratory animals, the researcher explains it not only due to the fact that hundreds of larvae per day can be obtained to cause an injury and try a good amount of drugs, but in that “they are transparent and allow to see, after applying the drug, if the neuron, in which it is confirmed that influences intrinsic factors, has been regenerated or not in the intact animal”.