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YOUR HEALTH: A fish that could help treat cancer

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SAN ANTONIO, Texas – It all started in May.

Kennedie Bailey was a healthy, happy fifth grader when doctors diagnosed her with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of childhood cancer.

"He did a biopsy and then a few weeks later, we found out the results and that's how we learned that I had rhabdomyosarcoma," she remembered.

Childhood rhabdomyosarcoma or embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma is a type of cancerous tumor that arises in soft tissue such as muscle.  It can occur throughout childhood and may be present at birth.

It accounts for about seven or eight percent of childhood cancers.   About two thirds of cases are diagnosed in children younger than age 10.

"I mean anytime you hear something like that, it's gonna be a shocker to you," admitted Kennedie's stepfather, Chris Bendele.   "Especially when you see them healthy, and then you find out, oh you know."

Although rare, Kennedie's cancer is treatable.  The larger problem is when the cancer recurs.

So researchers are utilizing zebrafish, in which they transplant cancerous tumors and keep a careful eye on them.

Zebrafish are rapidly becoming the "go-to" animals in cancer research. small and translucent, they breed rapidly, and take up little room. but most important; they grow transplanted cancer tumors in their little bodies very quickly. this gives doctors a clear view of why some cancers metastasize and recur

"You can look at it under the microscope and follow it for days, months and years and we can follow a cancer," explained University of Texas Health-San Antonio researcher Myron Ignatius.   "How cancers form, and because they're transparent, we can look in a tumor and say these are stem cells, this is a blood vessel. what are they doing?"

NEW TECHNOLOGY:  Like most childhood cancers, there is a 70-80 percent survival rate after treatment of primary tumors in patients with rhabdomyosarcoma.   However, when the tumor recurs or relapses there are no current treatments and less than 40 percent of patients who relapse survive their disease.   A team at UT Health San Antonio, is conducting a number of experiments in their facility using between 10,000-15,000 laboratory zebrafish to better understand how the tumors relapse in children with rhabdomyosarcoma and other sarcomas by transplanting cancerous tumors into the zebrafish and monitoring them closely.

"My expectation for the research study would be that it leaves us to be able to identify which patients are going to have a recurrence sooner and then also ultimately being able to end up to treat those recurrences," said Hematologist/Oncologist Dr. Aaron Sugalski.

"Whatever they can find out not only for her but for other kids, you know, it's extremely important," said Chris Bendele.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.