Thursday, February 15, 2007

Can RNA Turn Genes On?

Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center have found that RNA may be a potential tool in activating dormant genes.

RNA--a tiny cousin of DNA that may be the key to developing genetic therapies for a huge range of diseases, including cancer, neurological and respiratory diseases, and HIV. Nearly eight years ago, researchers Craig Mello, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and Andrew Fire, of Stanford University's School of Medicine, discovered that RNA plays a crucial role in regulating gene expression: the ability to turn genes off. They won a Nobel Prize for their work in 2006 identifying the mechanism for a process called RNA interference, or RNAi. They found that RNA blocks a gene from delivering its message to proteins, essentially shutting down that gene. Since then, scientists around the world have run with the idea, finding ways for RNAi to turn off a variety of genes--in particular, those that cause disease. It's RNA's role in switching off genes that dominates the talks at this week's conference, titled "RNAi for Target Validation and as a Therapeutic."

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