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NIH Sets Aside $3M for Studies of miRNA Tools


The National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Mental Health have earmarked approximately $1.4 million in grants to support small businesses developing technologies that can detect, isolate, and characterize microRNAs that exist in complex disease-relevant mixtures at low levels.

The funding opportunity, which is expected to finance five to 10 grant projects during 2007 and 2008, also includes technologies that detect and characterize peptides and proteins, according to the National Institutes of Health.

The NIH has also said that the National Institute of General Medical Sciences and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences next year will award three or four grants worth a total of $1.6 million to support projects that use systems biology approaches to investigate the mechanisms that underlie genetic determination of complex phenotypes.

The impact of miRNAs on the expression of complex traits is an area of particular interest to the institutes.

According to the NIH, the first funding opportunity is seeking Small Business Innovation Research grant applications that focus on “the development of novel technologies that can be used by the general research community to capture, detect, isolate, or characterize … miRNAs of low abundance in complex mixtures.”

Specifically, the NIH aims to fund research of technologies that could help scientists better understand the roles of miRNAs in tumor development and progression, patient responses to cancer treatments, and miRNAs present in brain tissue.

Although there have been “significant improvements in technologies that enable the isolation, quantification, and characterization of the cancer-relevant biomolecules in complex mixtures … existing technologies tend to be robust in … the separation and characterization of the major components of biological mixtures,” the NIH says. Low-abundance components such as miRNAs, meanwhile, “are often lost in the process and/or are not analyzed.”
Doug Macron

Short Reads

Johns Hopkins University and the University of Manitoba joined Open Biosystems’ Open Access Program for RNAi technologies. The schools can now access Open Biosystems’ RNAi resources, including shRNAmir lentiviral and retroviral libraries for human and mouse genomes and the RNAi Consortium human and mouse lentiviral shRNA libraries.

Rosetta Genomics and New York University Medical Center plan to co-develop miRNA-based diagnostic tests to detect lung and mesothelioma cancers. These tests will take advantage of Rosetta’s technology, which obtains microRNA from blood.
Alnylam Pharmaceuticals announced that it created a human respiratory syncytial virus infection model. Alnylam also signed a deal with MIT to sponsor a five-year RNAi delivery research program that provides Alnylam with an exclusive option to license technology coming out of that research.

Bristol-Myers Squibb is partnering with Isis Pharmaceuticals to research and then bring to market antisense-based therapeutics for preventing and treating cardiovascular disease. Their collaborative work will concentrate on proprotein convertase subtilisin kexin 9.

Mirus Bio won a two-year, $900,000 grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to improve its microRNA labeling technology for clinical research. The funding will also help determine whether the tool can be used for diagnostic applications.


US patent application 20070104688. Small interfering RNA mediated transcriptional gene silencing in mammalian cells. Inventors: John Rossi, Daniela Castanotto, Gerd Pfeiffer, Stella Tommasi, and Kevin Morris. Filed: May 24, 2006.

“The present invention relates to transcriptional gene silencing in mammalian, including human, cells that is mediated by small interfering RNA molecules,” says the patent abstract. “The present invention also relates to a method for directing histone and/or DNA methylation in mammalian, including human, cells.”

US application 20070099862. siRNA targeting carbonic anhydrase II. Inventors: Anastasia Khvorova, Angela Reynolds, Devin Leake, William Marshall, and Stephen Scaringe. Filed: December 7, 2006.

“Efficient sequence-specific gene silencing is possible through the use of siRNA technology. By selecting particular siRNAs by rationale design, one can maximize the generation of an effective gene silencing reagent, as well as methods for silencing genes,” says the patent abstract. This invention “provides kits, siRNAs, and methods for increasing siRNA efficacy.”

Data Point

€11.8 million

The European Commission awarded €11.8 million to a consortium called Silencing RNAs: Organizers and Coordinators of Complexity in Eukaryotic Organisms. It will study the potential of RNAi to treat disease and will be led by Britain’s Sainsbury Institute at the John Innes Center in Norwich.

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