In scientific research the discovery of a new type of molecule that regulates the flow of information from genes to proteins has a big impact. Such new regulators are top candidates to tackle human diseases at their roots as they govern on one of the most fine-tuned cellular processes. Today’s rapid development in technology enables scientists to translate such basic discoveries into clinical tools more directly. Supporting basic research at this interphase, the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH ) has granted 50,000 € to each of four selected projects.
The BIH Technology Transfer funds are supplied to researchers that aim for fastening the process of transferring latest insights from systemic and translational research into medical applications. The project proposed by Nikolaus Rajewsky and Sebastian Memczak from the BIMSB/MDC is amongst the four selected topics, investigating a new form of RNA, called circular RNA (circRNA).
CircRNAs were discovered decades ago but only recently recognized to be widespread –thousands of different circRNAs are expressed in humans. CircRNAs are covalently closed RNA isoforms that are highly stable – in fact generally much more stable than normal messenger RNAs because of their circular structure. Moreover, the Rajewsky lab has recently shown that circRNAs are tissue- and developmental stage specifically expressed. These features make circRNA exciting new candidates for biomarkers. Nikolaus and his colleagues also recently discovered that circRNAs are highly expressed in human neuronal tissues and that this expression is deeply conserved between humans and mice, indicating functional roles for circRNA in the nervous system.
As a part of the project funded by the BIH, Nikolaus, Sebastian and their colleagues will investigate whether this influences the expression of proteins known to be involved in diseases of the brain. If so, circRNA expression may reflect cellular disease states and therefore could serve as diagnostic tools in a number of human conditions.