Zebrafish aid in heart gene discovery award

21 Jun 2011

The discovery of a new gene involved in heart development has snagged an IMB researcher a prize at the Queensland Health and Medical Research Awards.

Dr Kelly Smith won the Postdoctoral Researcher Award for identifying the gene wickham, which causes a heart valve defect. Cardiac valves play a critical role in partitioning blood inside the heart.

“Understanding how the wickham gene helps the heart valves to develop and how this can go wrong may give us insights into how we can diagnose and treat congenital heart disease, the top cause of death from birth defects in infants,” Dr Smith said.

Dr Smith made her discovery using zebrafish, tropical freshwater minnows that have become a model organism for researchers to use in studying development.

“Early zebrafish heart formation is similar to that in humans, but because zebrafish embryos develop outside the mother and are transparent, we can observe and study the heart as it forms,” Dr Smith said.

Dr Michael Tallack, also of the IMB, was a finalist in the Postdoctoral Researcher Award. He studies the gene KLF1, a master regulator of red blood cell production that ensures these cells are healthy and functional.

Vicki Metzis, a PhD student in the Wicking group, won the best oral presentation prize at the postgraduate student conference accompnaying the Health and Medical Research Awards.

Ms Metzis's presentation was titled, "Novel roles for Patched1 in nasal development and facial clefting disorders".