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New Microscope for University of Otago Zebrafish Facility


Friday 16 April 2010 2:57pm

The KD Kirkby Trust, which is a long time benefactor of Cure Kids, has made a $45,000 grant to provide vital equipment for a world class zebrafish facility at the University of Otago, taking its support for medical research to almost $150,000.

Cure Kids Regional Manager Josie Spillane says the Trust has been a strong supporter of the charity, and its goal to improve the health and lifestyle of young New Zealanders through research, for the past ten years.

“We are indebted to Guardian Trust and the KD Kirkby trustees for their foresight in supporting valuable research which is being carried out at the University of Otago into children’s life threatening illnesses. The latest grant has provided funding for a sophisticated imaging microscope at the zebrafish facility which is a key to the success of the venture,” she says.

Professor Ian Morison Head of the Department of Pathology says zebrafish provide a very good model of human development.

“The aspect that is important for my work is that they provide a model of blood development and even more importantly childhood leukaemia. Extraordinarily if you take the abnormal gene that occurs in nearly a quarter of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) and put it in zebrafish, they will get leukaemia,” he says.

“We know that this abnormal gene is rather common, perhaps of all children at birth have it, but only about 1 percent go on to develop leukaemia years later. Similarly only about 3 percent of the zebrafish with this gene get ALL after eight to 12 months. The parallels are striking and they provide hope that we will be able to identify other factors that contribute to the development of leukaemia.”

Professor Morison says the high-tech microscope provided by the Trust is outstanding.

“The microscope turns the zebrafish facility into a world class amenity with which we can perform internationally competitive research and hopefully make a substantial contribution to the world knowledge of leukaemia. If our finding is confirmed in the fish, our studies will point to new pathways and targets for therapy in childhood leukaemia,”

“We are all incredibly grateful to the KD Kirkby Trust and Cure Kids for their faith in our work. We make no promises except to focus our work firmly on research that will make a difference to children of the future.”

Cure Kids Child Health Chair at the University of Otago Professor Stephen Robertson is equally as excited about the potential of the zebrafish facility and the microscope for his research into human developmental diseases.

“Discovering the genes that go awry in disease is often only the first step towards understanding a condition. Watching that gene play out its function during the development of an animal can give vital clues to how genetic diseases occur as well. With this new microscope we can study exactly that process with state-of-the-art precision. It is enormously exciting and brings a dynamic and real life dimension to the puzzles that we are studying,” he says.

KD Kirkby Trust Advisory Trustee Mike Langley says the Trust has demonstrated its commitment to Cure Kids over many years.

“The work that is being carried out at the University of Otago’s zebrafish facility will hopefully provide fresh answers for the benefit of young New Zealanders and this is very much in line with the Trust’s vision and philosophy. We are pleased to provide this equipment, which is so important to the success of the facility, and we look forward to following the progress of the research that is conducted there.”

Cure Kids, KD Kirkby Trust and the Guardian Trust representatives attended a function at the University of Otago today for an inspection of the zebrafish facility and the unveiling of a plaque to recognise their contribution.


Professor Ian Morison
Tel 64 3 479 7170