It used to be thought of as a dutiful but uninspired mediator — a middle man of sorts — between deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and proteins.
But recent research reveals that certain types of ribonucleic acid (RNA) can regulate the levels of protein in the cell. They may, in fact, be able to promote the development of cancer and to recognize and silence the processes that cause cancer.
To explore this immensely promising area of molecular oncology, a new center has been created within the Red and Charline McCombs Institute for the Early Detection and Treatment of Cancer. Led by Anil Sood, M.D., and George Calin, M.D., Ph.D., along with key contributor Gabriel Lopez-Berestein, M.D., the Center for RNA Interference and Non-Coding RNAs is a unique initiative among U.S. academic institutions.
Sood, professor in the departments of Gynecologic Oncology and Cancer Biology, and Calin, associate professor in the departments of Experimental Therapeutics and Cancer Genetics, are internationally recognized experts in the biology and translational applications of interfering RNA (RNAi), microRNAs (miRNAs) and other non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs). Lopez-Berestein, professor in the Department of Experimental Therapeutics, is an expert in cancer biology and drug development.
By delving into the role of these newly discovered RNAs in cancer initiation, progression and dissemination, researchers will work toward breakthroughs in early detection, biomarker identification and development. They also hope to find new treatments based on them.
Bringing together a multidisciplinary group of basic and clinical scientists from within M. D. Anderson and other institutions, including Baylor College of Medicine, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Rice University and the University of Houston, the center will be a reference point for research and collaboration, Calin says. “As the first center for non-coding RNAs in the United States, it’s an exciting step.”