NIH and National Science Foundation to award $15.4 million for RNA research

Funding to advance understanding of RNA biology and development of RNA-based technologies.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has partnered with the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) to provide approximately $15.4 million over three years for research into the structures, functions and interactions of ribonucleic acid (RNA), as well as the creation of RNA-based technologies. RNA sequencing and the mapping of RNA modifications have gained significant momentum in the genomics community in recent years, with a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine outlining a roadmap for the field to build technology and infrastructure to allow researchers to more completely study and catalog RNA and its modifications.

“A deeper understanding of RNA and its potential applications can advance our knowledge of living systems and can have profound impacts on human health.” said Carolyn Hutter, Ph.D., director of the Division of Genome Sciences at the National Human Genome Research Institute, part of NIH.

NIH will provide approximately $2.7 million, pending availability of funds, to support the work of two research groups while NSF has awarded over $12.7 million among nine research groups through NSF’s Molecular Foundations for Biotechnology program.

The NIH-funded projects include:

  • A research team at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, will focus on synthesizing long RNA molecules using a microfluidics platform, which consists of miniature chambers through which fluids are moved or stored. Scientists use long RNA molecules to probe genomic pathways and develop new drugs, but they can be difficult to synthesize because of their unstable nature. Current methods may not be able to produce high quantities of molecules with the correct sequences and structures. The group aims to develop a platform for synthesizing long, designer RNA molecules that maintain their correct folded structures, opening new avenues for scientific research.
  • A scientific team at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, will expand the capabilities of two technologies called nanopore sequencing and mass spectrometry, enabling researchers to determine the sequence of any RNA molecules, including those containing modifications that are difficult to detect. Cells chemically modify RNA molecules to change their formation, function, stability and location, which can affect important processes such as protein production and biological transition into different cell types. While RNA modifications have been implicated in a variety of human disorders and diseases, researchers are still trying to understand how each modification affects RNA function. The group will study modifications of several types of RNA in yeast, humans and a single-cell organism known as T. kodakarensis.

“Discoveries about RNA and its applications in the last several decades have transformed the field of science and medicine,” said Ian Nova, Ph.D., program director in NHGRI’s Division of Genome Sciences. “Our continued exploration of RNA and its associated innovations will inevitably shape the future of biomedicine.”

RNA is a molecule that is in all living cells and plays a role in nearly all biological processes, including carrying instructions for making proteins, helping build proteins and turning genes on and off. While RNA was discovered over a century ago, researchers are still uncovering new RNA-related pathways and RNA structures. Recent scientific advances have harnessed RNA to develop technologies and therapeutics such as small interfering RNA-based drugs and messenger RNA-based vaccines against cancers and infectious diseases.

SourceNIH/NATIONAL HUMAN GENOME RESEARCH INSTITUTE

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