NIH Funds Research to Explore Cell-to-Cell Communication
Researchers will investigate the emerging field of extracellular RNA and its role in human health conditions
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced $17 million in awards today, August 13, 2013, for the Extracellular RNA (exRNA) Communication program. This trans-NIH initiative is designed to advance research in a newly discovered type of cell-to-cell communication that may play a role in the diagnosis and treatment of a variety of health conditions.
Through 24 awarded research projects, scientists will explore basic exRNA biology and develop tools and technologies that apply new knowledge about exRNA to the research, diagnosis and treatment of diseases, including many types of cancer, bone marrow disorders, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis. Of these projects, NCATS will administer 18 awards through which researchers will develop biomarkers from exRNA and design new ways to use exRNA in treatments.
“We have a tremendous opportunity to explore a recently discovered novel way that cells communicate,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. in a press release about the “Expanding our understanding of this emerging scientific field could help us determine the role extracellular RNA plays in health and disease, and unlocking its mysteries may provide our nation’s scientists with new tools to better diagnose and treat a wide range of diseases.”
Scientists think exRNA can regulate many functions in the body and may have an important role in a variety of diseases, but they still know very little about basic exRNA biology. Most RNA works inside cells to translate genes into proteins that are necessary for organisms to function. Other types of RNA control which proteins and the amount of those proteins the cells make. Until recently, scientists believed RNA worked mostly inside the cell that produced it. Now, recent findings show cells can release RNA in the form of exRNA to travel through body fluids and affect other cells. ExRNA can act as a signaling molecule, communicating with other cells and carrying information from cell to cell throughout the body.