A close-up shot of a medical device.

Zebrafish are widely used in vision research to study eye diseases. We’re funding a state-of-the-art facility to house zebrafish in excellent conditions so they can help researchers find new treatments for blinding conditions.

The challenge

Zebrafish are a fresh water fish that are increasingly being used in vision research. This is because they provide an outstanding example for eye research, both in development and disease. 

The eye of a zebrafish is structurally similar to humans. In particular the retina is similar, with over 80% of disease-causing genes being conversed in the zebrafish.

Combined with ease of genetic manipulations, this conservation of genes means that zebrafish provide an excellent model of eye disease. Further benefits include the ability to carry out high resolution imaging and time lapse movies to watch the eye develop and degenerate in real time. The imaging capabilities in a living fish are unmatched by any other model, making the zebrafish the preeminent model for studying cell dynamics in development or disease.

The zebrafish is also an excellent model for testing safety and efficacy of pharmacological agents, allowing the analysis of various organs such as the ear and kidney for systemic adverse effects.

Finding a solution

We’re funding a state-of-art facility that will allow for zebrafish to be housed with excellent care. It will be accessible by all research groups at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and Moorfields to facilitate the study of cellular and molecular mechanisms of human eye disease. 

The proposed system will house zebrafish safely and securely in a temperature controlled environment, which is necessary for their healthy development, breeding and maturation. 

This system will examine zebrafish across their lifespan - from larvae to adult - and allow for the development of the experimental models to be used in the laboratory for live imaging, histology, and cell biology experiments.

These valuable zebrafish will be studied with the expressed interest to discover novel cell therapies and drug treatments for devastating blinding conditions.

The potential

As well as contributing to vision research and innovation, this investment is also supporting the Oriel ambition of building a world-class eye health facility by improving research capabilities and teaching. 

Currently there are approximately 20 researchers working with the zebrafish model at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and this new facility will provide the infrastructure to attract and grow this already impressive user base. 

This facility will give researchers and clinicians direct access to these models which is not currently possible, and allow for the time and space to expand the resource to develop new models for more eye diseases. 

Hear from Dr Ryan MacDonald

Dr Ryan MacDonald talks about the exciting potential of the zebrafish model for their goal of finding new therapies for patients with sight loss. He explains how the zebrafish allow researchers to see eye development happen in real time and are helping them to better understand how genetic mutations can cause vision loss.

Project Details

Funding scheme

Equipment grant

Grant holder

Dr Ryan MacDonald

Area(s) of work

Macular degeneration | Corneal disease | Genetics | Inherited eye disorders | Glaucoma | Cataracts | Retinal disease | Ocular inflammatory disease | Paediatrics

Award level


Start date

January 2020

Grant reference