December 15

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Zebra Fish, Sleeping Beauty Transposition, CARs and microRNA Sponges, Oh My!

What on earth could these words be describing? When listed out, it is almost impossible to believe that they are used in the same conference.

Is it a Zebra or a Fish or some Frankenstein amalgamation of the two? Turns out the zebrafish is a type of tropical fish that serves the dual purpose of being sold in pet stores for your aquarium and in medical research. The zebrafish got its name due to the horizontal stripes running along its sides, thus resembling a zebra. Turns out it is a type of tropical fish that is used in cancer and cardiac research. It can be used a model to study various pediatric cancers!

Sleeping Beauty Transposition…. Some strange twist on a classic fairy tale? Actually, it is a technique to insert specific sequences of DNA into genomes of vertebrate animals and used in pediatric cancer research! It got its rather intriguing name from the fact that a component of the technique was brought back into existence from a very deep evolutionary sleep – 10 millions year worth of beauty rest!

CARs in the realm of cancer research does not mean automobiles or the Pixar movie, but rather a patient’s modified immune cells (T-cells). After these cells are collected, the T cells are genetically engineered to produce special receptors on their surface called chimeric antigen receptors (CARs). CARs are proteins that allow the T cells to recognize a specific protein (antigen) on tumor cells.

microRNA sponges…. hmmm, what ever could they be? Are they used to clean very small things? They are a relatively new molecular genetic technique. In very simple terms it is a method to provide continuous microRNA (miRNA) loss of function in various models for genetic research.

These are just a few of the terms that were being bantered about at a recent conference on pediatric cancer.