Virtual research institute needed to unlock RNA’s promise

Strasbourg, 11 October 2010 – A Europe-wide network of labs focusing on RNA research is needed to make the most of RNA’s high potential for treating a wide range of diseases. The recommendation for this virtual research institute comes from a panel of biologists at the European Science Foundation in a report published today, ‘RNA World: a new frontier in biomedical research’.

Ten years on from the human genome project, RNA (ribonucleic acid) has stolen some of DNA’s limelight. The basic ingredient of our genes, DNA long outshone the other form of genetic material in our cells, RNA. RNA was seen as a simple stepping stone in the cell’s gene-reading activities.

Research over the last decade has shown RNA to be a remarkable molecule and a multi-talented actor in heredity. It is thought to be a major participant in the chemical reactions that led to the origins of life on Earth – the ‘RNA World’ hypothesis. RNA also controls genes in a way that was only recently discovered: a process called RNA interference, or RNAi. Medical researchers are currently testing new types of RNAi-based drugs for treating conditions such as macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness, and various infections, including those caused by HIV and the herpes virus.

“RNA could bring significant advances to the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of many human diseases,” said Professor Jörg Vogel from the University of Würzburg, Germany, who co-chaired the report. “In the global context, it’s surprising that Europe doesn’t have many centres specifically funded for and dedicated to it, particularly in comparison to the US. We strongly recommend creating a network of RNA centres, linked together as a Europe-wide ‘virtual institute’. A first step could involve calls through the European Commission and national funders. “

The virtual RNA institute would be made up of locally-funded, multidisciplinary centres with a critical mass of strong research groups in disciplines such as biology, biochemistry, chemistry, genetics, bioinformatics, biophysics, structural analysis, microbiology, plant sciences and clinical medicine. This environment could be well-suited to promoting superior training of a generation of young scientists, PhD students and postdoctoral researchers. They could also help deliver dedicated education programmes for RNA research, which are currently lacking.

A particular area where an increasing demand in the future can be foreseen is, as in almost all other areas of life science, bioinformatics. “A new generation of bioinformaticians needs to be trained to meet future demand, in RNA research and in many other areas of the life sciences,” continues Professor Vogel.

New models for public funding of infrastructure and resources for promising compounds to be used in the clinic should be developed. The financial burden for taking basic compounds and developing them into drugs could be shared by academic-industrial partnerships.

‘RNA World: a new frontier in biomedical research’ reviews the high pace of discovery in RNA research and gives a 5-10 year outlook of how both basic RNA research and its use in clinical practice should develop. Nine thematic priority areas were identified to address new and promising opportunities for biomedical, biotechnological, pharmaceutical and clinical RNA research.

For more information about the thematic areas and detailed recommendations, the Forward Look ‘RNA World: a new frontier in biomedical research’ is available online: www.esf.org/publications/

1 thought on “Virtual research institute needed to unlock RNA’s promise”

  1. This is the best news there could be; along with the CERN Large Hadron Collider project/research! This is certainly at the same level of importance to the Watson-Crick DNA findings of 1954 and the Schockley, Bardeen, Brittain- Bell Labs discovery of the first transistor also about 1954.

    Using this RNAi discovery and results, The Cleveland Clinic Cole Eye already about four or five years ago restored a woman’s eyesight to very near normal. She can now discern subtle differences in flower colors in the nursery which her children own. Prior, she could only see shadows from bright lights.

    My dad was a patient there at the time. I had Dr. Kaiser see him for evaluation for the same RNAi therapy. Unfortunately, dad was not a suitable candidate for that procedure because his eye problems were not the same, not remediable. Now he is still getting around, but does not have enough vision to recognize our faces.

    Many, many thanks anyway, to Dr. Kaiser and Cole Eye at Cleveland Clinic. Their the best people. God bless them ALL!!! Dad would say the same.

    I have similar eye problems. Maybe, some day, they will be able to help me and millions of others.

    If I had millions of dollars, I would fund RNAi research. It is the answer to many diseases. Just imagine what a hundred million dollars of research money would accomplish!!! It would return millions of disabled people to a full and productive life.

    We have already spent over 600 billion dollars on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; with projections of 2-3 Trillions before it is all over. All, just to keep the GOP, the Religious Right and the oil companies feeling happy; including my own religion!!! What a disastrous waste of MONEY and LIFE!!!!!

    ’nuff said!

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