RNA research strategy for Europe takes shape

Mar 04, 2009

Research into RNA, a molecule found in every cell of our bodies, could lead to remarkable advances in the treatment of diseases such as cancer and diabetes, a meeting organised by the European Science Foundation was told.

The conference, held the institute of Parasitología y Biomedicina "López-Neyra", CSIC in Granada, Spain, on 23 February 2009, was part of an ESF initiative to develop a coherent strategy for RNA research in Europe in recognition of the potential of RNA to result in new approaches to treating human diseases.

For many years it was believed that RNA's sole function in cells was to transmit genetic information from DNA during the manufacture of proteins - the cell's workhorse molecules. However, in recent years it has become clear that RNA has many more sophisticated functions and that there are more types of RNA than previously known.

The field exploded into activity with the discovery in 1998 by US researchers Andrew Fire and Craig Mello of a phenomenon called RNA interference, meaning that genes can be 'silenced' by RNA. This discovery, for which Fire and Mello were awarded the Nobel Prize in 2006, revolutionised the way scientists think about how genetic information is controlled in cells, and has opened the possibility of using gene silencing as a therapy where rogue genes cause disease.

"Research into RNA has great promise for both basic science and biotechnology and medicine," said the meeting's chairman, Professor Lars Thelander of Umeľ University in Sweden. "Most pharmaceutical companies now have RNA projects, but the field is still in its early days and it could be another ten years before we see products appearing in the clinics."

Professor Thomas Cech of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in the US told the meeting how he discovered that RNA could also act as a biological catalyst - something that it was previously thought was the preserve of proteins representing a wonderful example of the versatility of RNA function. The discovery gave rise to new ideas about how life on Earth might have started and resulted in Professor Cech being awarded a Nobel Prize in 1989.

The Granada "Consensus Conference" was organised by ESF as part of a 'Forward Look' entitled 'RNA World: a new frontier in biomedical research' aimed at developing a strategy for research in RNA over the next ten years. Three earlier workshops had examined various aspects of RNA research to identify where gaps in our knowledge lie and what is required to plug these gaps and fulfil the promise that RNA holds. Forward Looks are a key part of ESF's work, examining important areas of science and technology in consultation with leading scientists and policy makers to develop a strategic framework for research.

A Forward Look report on RNA research is due to be published later this year, detailing the scientific questions that need to be answered and giving politicians and policy makers the information they need when deciding where to direct research funding to ensure that Europe remains globally competitive in this key area of emerging science.

Source: European Science Foundation

Explore further: How plant cell compartments change with cell growth

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Oregon sues Oracle over failed health care website

20 minutes ago

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum says she's filed a lawsuit against Oracle Corp. and several of its executives over the technology company's role in the state's troubled health insurance exchange.

Google buys product design firm Gecko

40 minutes ago

Google on Friday confirmed that it bought Gecko Design to bolster its lab devoted to technology-advancing projects such as self-driving cars and Internet-linked Glass eyewear.

Lawsuits challenge US drone, model aircraft rules

59 minutes ago

Model aircraft hobbyists, research universities and commercial drone interests filed lawsuits Friday challenging a government directive that they say imposes tough new limits on the use of model aircraft ...

Recommended for you

How plant cell compartments change with cell growth

8 hours ago

A research team led by Kiminori Toyooka from the RIKEN Center for Sustainable Resource Science has developed a sophisticated microscopy technique that for the first time captures the detailed movement of ...

Plants can 'switch off' virus DNA

8 hours ago

A team of virologists and plant geneticists at Wageningen UR has demonstrated that when tomato plants contain Ty-1 resistance to the important Tomato yellow leaf curl virus (TYLCV), parts of the virus DNA ...

A better understanding of cell to cell communication

9 hours ago

Researchers of the ISREC Institute at the School of Life Sciences, EPFL, have deciphered the mechanism whereby some microRNAs are retained in the cell while others are secreted and delivered to neighboring ...

A glimpse at the rings that make cell division possible

9 hours ago

Forming like a blown smoke ring does, a "contractile ring" similar to a tiny muscle pinches yeast cells in two. The division of cells makes life possible, but the actual mechanics of this fundamental process ...

User comments : 0