UC MagazineUniversity of CincinnatiUC Magazine

UC Magazine

Zebrafish Proves to Be Good Study for Heart Disease

Third-year doctoral student Rob Littleton studied philosophy as an undergrad, but turned his attention to physiology at UC where he uses the zebrafish to study life-threatening disease.

This tiny research subject (about 1-2 millimeters as embryos and 3-4 centimeters full grown) develop so rapidly that the young have a beating heart 22 hours after the sperm and egg get together.

Their speedy development and almost transparent bodies allow Littleton to visualize full organ systems under a microscope in real time.

He uses this to his advantage by creating fluorescent fat deposits that he then introduces into the fish. Using high-tech confocal microscopy, he maps in 3-D where the deposits land and quantify the way the fat (plaque) accumulates in different areas of the zebrafish’s body.

In humans, this buildup is called atherosclerosis and Littleton hopes to use the zebrafish model to test a holistic treatment for the life-threatening plaque accumulation that might one day be tested in humans.

Next up for Littleton … lots more research. He’ll finish his graduate degree in 2012 and plans to seek a post-doc position.

Littleton works alongside UC’s Jay Hove, PhD, associate professor in the College of Medicine molecular and cellular physiology department and a 2006 winner of the prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE).

Related Info:


  • Ashley Kempher, videographer and editor
  • Travis Estell, website editor
  • Clare Ward, narrator

More Information:

Dama Ewbank
Assistant Director, Public Relations
Academic Health Center