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NIH Offers up to $19M for Extracellular RNA Consortium

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Institutes of Health will provide up to $3.8 million per-year for as many as five years to fund a consortium of researchers who will conduct a system analysis of extracellular RNA in the human body.

NIH thinks it is possible that exRNAs, which have been found in a range of human body fluids, may be useful in developing new strategies for prognosis and diagnosis of, and intervention against, many diseases.

Through the NIH Common Fund, this RFA will provide up to $700,000 per-year for up to five years for each grant winner, totaling up to $19 million. The NIH expects to support three to five research groups that will work as a consortium to generate reference profiles of both short and long non-coding regulatory exRNAs.

The new RFA was released just a month after NIH awarded $17 million to fund 24 projects that seek to understand how exRNA is involved in communication between cells, and how they may be used as disease biomarkers. Those studies, and these new grants, are being funded under the Extracellular RNA Communication program.

The notion that RNA molecules are secreted extracellularly and alter the phenotypes of target cells "represents a novel paradigm in intercellular signaling," the NIH said. Advances in RNA sequencing technologies have enabled investigators to identify "a large and diverse population" of exRNA, including microRNAs and long non-coding RNA, and RNA regulation may be "much more complex than previously believed," the institute added.

Roughly 60 to 80 percent of all protein encoding genes are regulated by miRNAs, and it has recently been discovered that circular RNAs can interact with miRNA regulators of gene expression. For these and other reasons, NIH believes that RNAs may have "profound implications for a wide range of physiologic and pathologic processes."

Research projects funded under this grant program, "Defining A Comprehensive Reference Profile of Circulating Human Extracellular RNA," will generate profiles of exRNAs found in a range of human body fluids, including blood, saliva, urine, breast milk, semen, amniotic fluid, and others.