What some scientists envision as the master key to unlocking the mysteries of disease will be the topic of the annual RNA Symposium on March 30 sponsored by the U-M Center for RNA Biomedicine.
Ribonucleic acid — or RNA — is the messenger molecule that carries the DNA blueprint in human cells. RNAs also respond to and capture environmental changes over an individual’s lifespan and often change how the DNA blueprints are used in our bodies.
Recent findings about RNA offer new hope for solving intractable medical problems.
“Much of the focus of precision medicine has centered around identifying and trying to translate DNA-based alterations,” said Scott Tomlins, associate professor of pathology, and urology. “However, many of the next transformative advances will likely be RNA-based with clear potential impact in diagnosis, prognosis/prediction, and therapeutic targeting across disease areas.”
“The basic biosciences are the engine that drives medical innovation forward, as the recent discoveries of RNA silencing and RNA-guided genome editing show, which started out as curious laboratory observations in exotic organisms,” says Nils G. Walter, Francis S. Collins Collegiate Professor of Chemistry, Biophysics & Biological Chemistry and founding co-director of the Center for RNA Biomedicine.
Applying a basic understanding of RNA bioscience to medicine successfully will require convergent studies from many fields and will result in high impact — hallmarks of research endorsed by President Mark Schlissel’s Biosciences Initiative.
Speakers at this year’s symposium will highlight ways to use RNA to target and treat diseases. Among the speakers is Eric Fearon, director of the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center. Other keynote speakers are:
• Melissa Moore of Moderna Therapeutics. She is an expert in post-transcriptional gene regulation via mechanisms involving RNA and RNA-protein complexes.
• Jonathan Weissman of the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine. He is an expert on how cells ensure that proteins fold into their correct shape, as well as the role of protein misfolding in disease and normal physiology.
• Roy Parker of the University of Colorado. He is an expert in the biogenesis, function, and degradation of RNAs and how cells regulate different steps in this process during disease.
• Anastasia Khvorova, University of Massachusetts Medical School. She is an expert whose expertise lies in identifying chemical and biological properties that drive small RNA function and RNA-based therapeutics.
“Data Blitzes” from U-M faculty and students and a panel discussion on how to advance RNA biosciences into medicine round out the symposium.
The symposium begins at 8:30 a.m. in the A. Alfred Taubman Biomedical Research Science Building. It is free of charge and open to U-M faculty, staff, students and anyone interested in the most recent discoveries regarding the many roles of RNA in health and disease. Register at umichrna.org/symposium-registration/. A box lunch will be provided.