Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Vertebrate automated screening technology (VAST)

How can you use robots and automatic recognition of microscopic images to test the effect of drugs exceptionally quickly?

Fons Verbeek
NWO-middelgroot NWO-middelgroot

The progression of human diseases such as cancer and TB can be well studied in larvae of zebrafish. Using robots and automatic recognition of microscopic images, biologist Herman Spaink and computer scientist Fons Verbeek will exceptionally quick test the effect of new drugs. The purchase of this system is important for screening substances for disease control.

Fluorescence microscopy

The device can analyze zebrafish larvae by fluorescence microscopy. In collaboration with Fons Verbeek of the Leiden Institute for Advanced Computer Science, a new analysis system is being developed that will make it possible to test the effect of new medicines exceptionally quickly with automatic recognition of the microscopic images.

Zebrafish as a model for diseases

Since the 1980s, scientists have widely used the zebrafish as a model organism for genetic research on human diseases. Why exactly is the zebrafish used for research and what can such a small fish tell us about diseases?

The zebrafish is a small fish between three and five centimeters long. It gets its name from the dark stripes that run the length of its body. An important characteristic of the zebrafish is that the eggs are fertilized outside the body and develop into embryos there. This development is extremely fast: after 24 hours the most important organs are already formed and after three days the young fish, which still look like embryos, hatch. These embryos are small and, very importantly, transparent. This allows them to be easily viewed under the microscope while swimming around in a small dish. This allows the researcher to follow when a disease develops and how it progresses.

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