Virtual research institute needed to unlock RNA's promise

Oct 11, 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 , RNA () has stolen some of DNA's limelight. The basic ingredient of our genes, DNA long outshone the other form of 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 , 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 .

"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 research.

Explore further: Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

More information: www.esf.org/publications/

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

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.

Closing a loophole in the RNA World Hypothesis

Jan 15, 2007

New scientific research may close a major loophole in the RNA world hypothesis, the idea that ribonucleic acid -- not the fabled DNA that makes up genes in people and other animals -- was the key to life's emergence on Earth ...

RNAi shows promise in gene therapy, researcher says

Feb 19, 2007

Three years ago Mark Kay, MD, PhD, published the first results showing that a biological phenomenon called RNA interference could be an effective gene therapy technique. Since then he has used RNAi gene therapy to effectively ...

Explained: RNA interference

Nov 12, 2009

Every high school biology student learns the basics of how genes are expressed: DNA, the cell’s master information keeper, is copied into messenger RNA, which carries protein-building instructions to the ...

Recommended for you

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

Researchers develop new model of cellular movement

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —Cell movement plays an important role in a host of biological functions from embryonic development to repairing wounded tissue. It also enables cancer cells to break free from their sites of ...

For resetting circadian rhythms, neural cooperation is key

Apr 17, 2014

Fruit flies are pretty predictable when it comes to scheduling their days, with peaks of activity at dawn and dusk and rest times in between. Now, researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Cell Reports on April 17th h ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.