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St. Michael’s opens one of world’s most advanced zebrafish labs

Toronto, August 9, 2012

By Leslie Shepherd

St. Michael's Hospital is now home to the first automated high-throughput zebrafish screening facility in Canada and one of the most advanced screening facilities in the world.

The facility is headed by Dr. Xiao-Yan Wen, a global leader in zebrafish research and usage who was recruited to St. Michael’s in 2009 to lead the zebrafish functional genomics initiative.

Dr. Wen received $2 million infrastructure funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation to build the Zebrafish Centre for Advanced Drug Discovery. He is seeking operating funds from Genome Canada and the Ontario Genomics Institute.

Zebrafish have recently become a popular organism for biomedical research – especially cardiovascular development and disease, Canada’s top public health threat. Zebrafish are vertebrates, they breed rapidly and prolifically and their hearts start beating at about 24 hours after fertilization. Because they are transparent, researchers can watch the effect of drugs in real time.

Screening by hand is labour intensive. The new automated facility will allow researchers to use live zebrafish embryos to screen millions of compounds annually.

Working with Dr. Subodh Verma, a cardiac surgeon; Dr. Thomas Parker, a cardiologist; and Dr. Philip Marsden, a nephrologists and vascular biologist, Dr. Wen’s lab has been screening chemical compounds targeting angiogenesis and studying their molecular mechanisms. They have already identified one drug, rosuvastatin—a cholesterol-lowering statin sold as Crestor by AstraZeneca—that suppressed the growth of transplanted human prostate cancer cells in mice.

Other projects in the centre include method development and screening of compounds targeting inflammation, nicotine addiction, diabetes, sepsis, hypoxia, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and eye degenerative diseases. Dr. Wen is building many local, national and international collaborations and partnerships to find a cure to battle these diseases. “This lab will enhance our ability to identify novel mechanisms and therapies that will improve health, to attract leading scientists, to train highly qualified personnel and to stimulate technology transfer and commercial application,” said Dr. Arthur Slutsky, vice-president, research.

About St. Michael’s Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in more than 23 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, and care of the homeless are among the Hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Center, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael’s Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.