Strasbourg, 11 October 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 human genome project, RNA (ribonucleic acid) has stolen some of DNA's limelight. The basic ingredient of our genes, DNA long outshone the other form of genetic material 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 RNA interference, 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 herpes virus.
"RNA could bring significant advances to the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of many human diseases," said Professor Jrg Vogel from the University of Wrzburg, 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
|Contact: Chloe Kembery|
European Science Foundation