Identifying potential RNA therapeutic targets

February, 2014

RNA model

This research seeks to identify new potential RNA therapeutic targets for treating infectious disease. Despite advances in high-throughput experimental technologies, identifying potentially targetable interactions between macromolecules (protein, DNA, RNA) in host organisms and those in infectious pathogens is time-consuming and expensive. This problem can be addressed by using computational approaches to identify -- from the millions of potential interactions -- a much smaller set of interactions most likely to be targetable. This would dramatically reduce experimental efforts and, if successful, could be employed widely as a tactic to treat viral, bacterial and fungal infections in both plants and animals, including humans.

Transformative technologies

Interfering RNA (RNAi) technologies have been proposed as an anti-viral strategy that inhibits expression of essential viral genes. This approach, although sometimes successful, is now considered unlikely to succeed due to side effects resulting from non-specific silencing of unintended host target genes. We are undertaking an innovative two-pronged approach to circumvent this problem: i) targeting specific well-known lentiviral RNA-protein interactions; and ii) exploiting natural host cell non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs) likely to play important roles in cellular defense against viruses. Given the importance of ncRNAs and protein-RNA networks in genomics and clinical research, developing these technologies should be transformative, filling a critical gap in research infrastructure at ISU and positioning the university to be at the forefront of RNA-based therapeutics.

Figure depicting rev roles

Cross-disciplinary collaborations

In the current era of BIG DATA research projects, delivering transformative results inherently requires networking to generate and expand cross-disciplinary collaborations. Our research team exploits the combined strengths of a core group of highly collaborative and productive scientists, with expertise in virology, structural biology, molecular genetics, chemistry, plant science and computational biology. We are excited about the opportunity to integrate high-throughput experimental approaches with computational methods and develop novel cutting-edge technologies for interrogating RNA-protein complexes and regulatory networks at ISU.