In precision oncology, two major strategies are being pursued for predicting clinically relevant tumour behaviours, such as treatment response and emergence of drug resistance: inference based on genomic, transcriptomic, epigenomic and/or proteomic analysis of patient samples, and phenotypic assays in personalized cancer avatars. The latter approach has historically relied on in vivo mouse xenografts and in vitro organoids or 2D cell cultures. Recent progress in rapid combinatorial genetic modelling, the development of a genetically immunocompromised strain for xenotransplantation of human patient samples in adult zebrafish and the first clinical trial using xenotransplantation in zebrafish larvae for phenotypic testing of drug response bring this tiny vertebrate to the forefront of the precision medicine arena. In this Review, we discuss advances in transgenic and transplantation-based zebrafish cancer avatars, and how these models compare with and complement mouse xenografts and human organoids. We also outline the unique opportunities that these different models present for prediction studies and current challenges they face for future clinical deployment.

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Photo of Len Zon

The Zon laboratory aims to dissect how assaults to the hematopoietic system cause severe diseases such as leukemias, lymphomas, and anemias. They investigate hematopoietic development and disease using chemical screens, genetic screens, and analysis of novel transgenic lines in zebrafish.

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