Breakthrough in Fighting Cushing's Disease

Cushing’s disease is a rare but sometimes fatal hormonal disorder that has few treatment options. Researchers in Los Angeles are using a very unusual little fish to try to find help for people who suffer with the disease.

These tiny tropical striped fish could hold the key to curing the hormonal disorder called Cushing’s disease.

Dr. Shlomo Melmed, an endocrinologist, said, “The genetic makeup of zebra fish and our genetic makeup are remarkably similar -With very few differences.”

In people with Cushings, a tumor on the pituitary gland causes it to produce too much of the hormone cortisol. That affects blood pressure and metabolism and can lead to diabetes, heart disease and sometimes death.

In the Cedars Sinai Lab they're using zebra fish to test up to 300 drugs each week that could fight the tumors. Researchers are able to watch the fish from the first cell of growth.

Dr. Ning-Ai Liu with Cedars Sinai Medical Center said, “The beauty of zebra fish embryos is because they're transparent and as we introduce these florescent markers we can follow them.”

Green markers show normal pituitary gland growth, red indicates the tumor. Researchers can then watch how drugs affect tumor growth.

Only about 1 in a hundred thousand people suffer with Cushing’s disease and almost all of them are women.

Symptoms include a puffy face, sudden weight gain, skin changes and irritability.
Dr. Melmed said, “Our goal is to discover a medical therapy for Cushing's disease a medical therapy to control the tumor growth.”

With no drug treatments available for Cushings, Cedars Sinai scientists hope their research will lead to new options.

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