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December 2021

Zebrafish jpeg
Three different stages of zebrafish growth with the developing vasculature labelled in magenta and the factor at the centre of the findings – Ddx21 – labelled in green.

Ben Hogan jpeg

Ben Hogan

Fishing for a new way to curb spread of cancer

A mutated fish is helping Melbourne scientists uncover how the lymphatic system forms and could lead to new approaches to curb the spread of cancer.

The research began in 2007 when Professor Ben Hogan found a mutant zebrafish strain, in a genetic screen, while completing his postdoctoral studies in developmental biology at the Hubrecht Institute in the Netherlands.

‘I discovered a mutant that formed its blood vessels normally but did not form its lymphatic vessels,’ said Professor Hogan, who is now co-head of the organogenesis program at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

The fish had a mutated Ddx21 gene which, through Professor Hogan’s research, is now shown to play a fundamental role in forming lymphatic vessels.

Professor Hogan and his research collaborators have now mapped the molecular pathway by which the Ddx21 gene controls the formation of these vessels.

It is hoped this same pathway could be used to curb the spread of cancer.

‘Based on our findings, targeting Ddx21 would reduce lymphatic vessel formation and growth called lymphangiogenesis,’ said Professor Hogan, who also has a joint appointment with the department of anatomy and physiology at the University of Melbourne.

‘Lymphangiogenesis provides a pathway for the metastatic spread of cancer and reducing it is expected to reduce the burden of metastasis.’