Targeting a Cell's RNA to Create Novel Diagnostic Tools


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Most medicines interact with proteins in the body; more recently gene therapies have targeted DNA directly to affect bodily functions. That leaves a third class of molecules completely untapped in terms of medical interventions–RNA.


Scott Tenenbaum, associate professor of nanobioscience at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering of the University at Albany, has found a way to target and report the presence of any RNA of interest in a living cell. He developed a nano-based technology called sxRNA that can be injected into cells to seek out a specific RNA molecule. If the target is found, the sxRNA switches on the expression of a reporter gene that glows–literally functioning as an indicator light.


Accurate reporting of the presence of an RNA molecule could be used to diagnose certain diseases in which certain genetic pathways are overactive and cause pathology.


The invention has been patented as a platform technology. That means that rather than creating a single diagnostic or therapeutic tool, Tenenbaum is developing the process to be applicable to any medical intervention that involves RNA molecules. In the future, he envisions possibilities where instead of creating a mere signal for the presence of a particular RNA, the sxRNA could switch on a gene that repairs faulty cell function or a gene that causes the self-destruction of a cancer cell.


“The project has nearly unlimited scope,” Tenebaum says. “Rather than developing a technology for one disease or one cell type, our strategy is to make a pipeline to rationally develop the switches on demand.”


Tenenbaum’s nano-based technology is one of five diverse proposals that were selected in June 2011 to receive a total of $250,000 in funding for the first round of the Technology Accelerator Fund (TAF) awards. TAF is a program launched by SUNY and the Research Foundation in April to identify and support opportunities where strategic investments will make a significant impact on moving products and services to the marketplace.


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