Chico State professor researches zebrafish in hopes of creating artificial blood


Professor David Stachura examining the zebrafish under a microscope. Photo by Kelsi Sibert.

Kelsi Sibert

Chico State Associated Professor David Stachura is working with Chico State undergraduate and graduate students as well as collaborators from Harvard and UC San Diego to make blood using zebrafish.

Stachura has studied this type of blood research for 12 years but this research has existed since the 1950s.

“We’re basically trying to figure out all the different ways these cells turn into mature blood so that we (can) do it artificially,” he said.

The basis of this research for Stachura, his students and his collaborators is to test different proteins in the body to figure out which proteins work best with certain blood cells. This is where the zebrafish are used.

Stachura noted that fish and humans have similar blood so by using the zebrafish, researchers are able to test different drugs and proteins to see how the fish react.

“We can (mess) around with basically how (the fish) make blood as an embryo,” Stachura said. “(We’re) able to just look at them under a microscope.”

This petri dish contains five-day-old developing zebrafish. Photo by Kelsi Silbert.

Typical test subjects such as mice develop inside the uterus of the mother and take longer to develop and cannot be monitored under a microscope. But the zebrafish begins to develop within 17 hours and its growth can be looked at under a microscope.

The zebrafish is essentially used as a “model organism” for experimentation to test ideas and concepts to make sure they work before being used on humans.

With the findings through this research, Stachura and his collaborators could potentially use the artificial blood to cure blood diseases like leukemia.

“Ultimately what we’d like to do is if we can figure out all these gene pathways,” he said. “Then potentially we could make a drug that could allow you to expand blood or cure blood diseases.”

Stachura also noted that the artificial blood could also be used during a blood shortage, especially for people with rare blood types.

“You don’t need the blood, you can take a stem cell, you can grow it in a plate and you can make blood,” he said.

Chico State graduate student Becca Belmonte has worked along alongside Stachura in this research process since January 2016. Her main focus of this research is on a particular protein called SON.

“I’m focused on studying a specific protein and its role in blood development,” Belmonte said. “I’m just trying to establish what role it plays in blood development and how that can tie in with what everyone else is doing in the lab.”

The room is known as the “aquarium” where all the experimental fish live. Photo by Kelsi Sibert.

Through the research, Stachura and his students are currently testing four to five ideas that they think might work.

“We found a couple genes that we think are important for this process and right now my students are testing them,” Stachura said.

Once these ideas are tested on the zebrafish, they will then be sent to the Harvard and UC San Diego collaborators to be tested on human cells.

“Really what we’re doing is we’re testing the early things and then we hope that we can move them on to be a drug or a treatment for a human disease,” Stachura said.

Kelsi Sibert can be reached at [email protected] or @ksibertofficial on Twitter.