$5.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the role of extracellular RNA (ex-RNA) in colorectal cancer

by Bill Snyder

Robert Coffey Jr., M.D., Ingram Professor of Cancer Research at Vanderbilt University, has received a five-year, $5.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the role of extracellular RNA (ex-RNA) in colorectal cancer.

Coffey’s is one of 24 grants totaling $17 million awarded to 20 institutions through the collaborative, cross-cutting Extracellular RNA Communication program. The program is supported by the NIH Common Fund and led by a team representing five different NIH institutes and centers.Most RNA works inside cells to translate genes into proteins that are necessary for organisms to function. Now, recent findings show cells can release RNA in the form of exRNA to travel through body fluids and affect other cells.

“We have a tremendous opportunity to explore a recently discovered novel way that cells communicate,” NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., said in a news release.

Researchers hope to use some kinds of exRNA as biomarkers, or indicators of the presence, absence or stage of a disease, or to develop new molecular-based therapies.

Coffey’s project, entitled “Secreted RNA during CRC (colorectal cancer) progression, biogenesis, function and clinical markers,” is supported by NIH grant number CA179514.

His lab will work with two teams of investigators from the University of California, San Francisco, and one team each from Massachusetts General Hospital and Rockefeller University to examine the mechanisms of exRNA biogenesis (production), distribution and function.

Working at Vanderbilt with Seth Karp, M.D., Charles Manning, Ph.D., Jeffrey Franklin, Ph.D., Alissa Weaver, M.D., Ph.D., James G. Patton, Ph.D., and Bing Zhang, Ph.D., Coffey will study the role that altered biogenesis of secreted RNAs in vesicles (exosomes) may play during the progression of colon cancer.

“We are delighted to be a part of the biogenesis group that includes two teams from UCSF, one from Rockefeller and one from Harvard (MGH),” said Coffey, who also is director of Vanderbilt’s Epithelial Biology Center.

For a list of the research projects, click on http://commonfund.nih.gov/exrna/fundedresearch.

Bill Snyder, (615) 322-4747

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