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Finding Cures Faster

Dr. Deborah Kurrasch was recently awarded a $3 million grant from Brain Canada to further her zebrafish drug screening program at the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute.

Tropical fish help researchers discover new treatments for kids with epilepsy

Knowing that zebrafish are 80% genetically similar to humans and possess many of the same biologicalZebrafish pathways, scientists at the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI) have successfully bioengineered hundreds of these tiny tropical fish to mimic symptoms experienced by children with epilepsy. These fish are now being used in a ground-breaking study to screen potential new medications for their effectiveness in controlling epileptic seizures.

“While there are dozens of drugs available to help children suffering with epilepsy, sadly, over a third of kids do not respond to the current treatments available,” says Dr. Jong Rho, division head of Pediatric Neurology at the Alberta Children’s Hospital. “We need to find answers for those children and their families.”

“Many times, a drug used for one illness has potential to help those who suffer with another disease,” explains Dr. Deborah Kurrasch, ACHRI researcher and assistant professor in the Department of Medical Genetics at the University of Calgary. “For example, some chemotherapy drugs designed to cure kids with cancer have been proven effective to help manage symptoms of juvenile arthritis. We are researching the possibility that drugs already in the system might be the answer to stopping or controlling seizure disorders.”

Already, Dr. Kurrasch and her team have found six new therapies that show promise and are being validated before heading into clinical trials with pediatric patients.

“Using zebrafish as the first screen for these drugs gives us much quicker results,” says Dr. Rho. “With traditional testing of experimental drugs, it can take up to 20 years for the medication to get to the patients. Screening known drugs makes it possible for new treatments to advance in just a few years. It’s very exciting to see results coming back so quickly and gives us great hope for our patients.”

Recently, Dr. Kurrasch and Dr. Rho were awarded the largest grant ever received by the University of Calgary from Brain Canada - $3 million. Along with generous support from the community, they will be able to further develop this important drug screening program and potentially unlock more answers for children facing brain illness and injury in our community and around the world.

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