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Date:9/6/2010

molecules, and how we might create practical applications that utilize that information.

At the heart of this approach is ribonucleic acid or RNA, and all of the normal tasks it performs each and every day to keep our cells alive and healthy. RNA is the relatively short-lived counterpart of DNA, the coding system that stores full copies of our entire genome within almost every cell of our body. If we think of DNA as information stored on the hard drive of a computer, then RNA is like information stored on a more volatile kind of memory like RAM -- which is erased when you switch off your computer.

RNAs perform all kinds of functions in a cell, acting as messengers and switches to communicate and monitor which genes are expressed in a cell at any given time. A particular class of RNAs, called small RNAs, is less than 30 base pairs in length (an average gene is thousands of base pairs long). These small bits of RNA are involved in many of the processes that maintain life. The treatment developed by Pierce and his colleagues relies on two separate small RNAs that structurally mimic those that occur naturally within our own cells. Because these molecules resemble small RNAs that are normally present, the researchers hope there will be few, if any side effects.

"By de-coupling diagnosis and treatment, we can create molecules that are both highly selective and highly effective in killing cancer cells," said Pierce. "Conceptually, small conditional RNAs have the potential to transform cancer treatment because they change what we can expect from a molecule. Many years of work remain to establish whether this conceptual promise can be realized in human patients."

Here's how it works: Treatment involves two different small RNAS. The first small RNA will open up if --and only if-- it finds the cancer mutation. A positive "diagnosis" exposes a signal that was previously hidden within the small RNA. Once this small RNA is open, a
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Contact: Lisa Van Pay
lvanpay@nsf.gov
703-292-8796
National Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert  

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