SAN MARCOS, TEXAS — A grant of $6.3 million from the National Cancer Institute will fund a cancer research project that has teamed scientists from Southwest Texas State University and the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.
The grant, announced Thursday by officials at SWT, is the largest competitive research grant in the school’s history. It will support a program at SWT that breeds a special kind of fish that is highly prized by cancer researchers worldwide. It will also fund research projects at SWT and at M.D. Anderson in which scientists use the fish to search for genetic factors that can cause cancer.
“If we’re able to locate in these fish the genes associated with cancer, then we can locate those same genes in humans. That will allow us to identify individuals who are genetically predisposed to certain types of cancer,” said Ron Walter, the program leader and a professor of chemistry at SWT.
The fish are prized by researchers because, when cross-bred, they produce offspring that spontaneously develop cancer that is remarkably similar to human melanoma or skin cancer.
The stock center at SWT where the fish are produced is unique in the scientific community. The ancestors of the fish now at SWT were originally collected in Mexico and South America beginning in the 1920s by a New York biologist. The fish in the center today are the 97th generation of brother-sister matings, making them clones, meaning fish in each breeding line are genetically identical.
The stock center laboratory at SWT contains more than 1,100 aquaria and more than 6,000 fish.
In addition to operating the stock center, Walter and his SWT colleagues are involved in research to determine how various carcinogens can cause cancer. Scientists at M.D. Anderson use the fish to determine how ultraviolet radiation can contribute to tumor formation. Both institutions are also researching genetic links to cancer using the fish specimens.