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OKLAHOMA CITY – A tiny fish could hold the key to a huge breakthrough in researching DNA replication and birth defects.

The Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation started experimenting on zebrafish in 2011 to help understand what goes wrong in cells during the development process. Officials say those anomalies can lead to cancer or birth defects.

“Zebrafish are a great experimental model because they share 70% of the human genome,” Adam Cohen, spokesperson for Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, said.

OMRF was just awarded a $1.7 million grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences that will go directly into research in this laboratory. Officials say it is a grant they have been working toward for seven years.

Cohen said grants like these are especially important as the White House proposes a 20 percent cut to the National Institutes of Health.

“The new budget proposals have proposed cutting the National Institutes of Health budget. If that were to happen, it would be calamitous for research at OMRF and the Oklahoma Health Sciences Center,” Cohen said.

This five-year grant will pay for equipment and staffing. Money they hope will help turn into breakthroughs to prevent cancer and birth defects.

“Every day, what our scientists are hoping to do is gain insight that will help people live longer healthier lives,” he said.

OMRF is a non-profit biomedical research institute that has been around for 70 years.