Translucent fish larvae allow scientists to view progression of meningitis infection

Researchers from Duke University Medical Center recently developed a new method to witness how cryptococcal meningitis infections take over the brain, a process that kills roughly 600,000 people each year, by watching the progression in infected zebra fish larvae, whose bodies are translucent.

"What's impressive is that, unlike in a mouse or rabbit, you can actually see the organism producing disease in the live animal," Duke University School of Medicine Infectious Diseases Division Chief Dr. John Perfect said. "Day-by-day, it's growing and moving throughout the body. You can't see this anywhere else."

The cryptococcus fungi, which enter the human body via our lungs and is dangerous to those with compromised immune systems, is injected into the microscopic fish larvae and marked with a fluorescent tracer. Scientists can then watch it move through tissue, blood vessels and the brain. This model also will be useful in batch-testing drug compounds, as the larvae are permeable to small molecules.

"Our hope is that by creating this system, we can continue our own investigations into other harmful organisms, and that other scientists worldwide can adapt our zebrafish model to investigate the diseases that are priorities in their communities," Perfect said.

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