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Inaugural UMMS RNA Therapeutics Institute scientific conference this week

  Banner promoting the RNA Therapeutics Institute’s inaugural conference and symposium, “RNA Therapeutics: From Base Pairs to Bedside.”

Victor Ambros, PhD, Gary Ruvkun, the two researchers who first identified microRNA in 1993, will headline the event with a keynote address.

More than 350 academic, biotechnology and industry leaders will converge on the Albert Sherman Center at UMass Medical School on June 28 and 29 for the RNA Therapeutics Institute’s inaugural conference and symposium, “RNA Therapeutics: From Base Pairs to Bedside.” Victor Ambros, PhD, the Silverman Chair in Natural Sciences and professor of molecular medicine, and Harvard Professor Gary Ruvkun—the two researchers who first identified microRNA in 1993—will headline the event with a keynote address.

UMMS is home to some of the most distinguished minds in RNA biology, including Nobel Prize winner Craig Mello, PhD, who, with Andrew Fire, discovered RNA interference in 1998. The RNA Therapeutics Institute (RTI) was founded in 2009 and became an academic department in 2016, and is chaired by Phillip D. Zamore, PhD, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, the Gretchen Stone Cook Chair of Biomedical Sciences and chair and professor of RNA therapeutics. Dr. Zamore is a leader in the field of RNA biology and a co-founder of Alnylam Pharmaceuticals and of Voyager Therapeutics.

“Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, RNA was thought mainly to intermediate between DNA and protein. Over the last three decades, that view has given way to the understanding that RNA plays rich and complex roles previously ascribed only to proteins,” said Zamore. “From non-coding RNAs to RNA interference, from CRISPR to circular RNAs, we have witnessed astonishing discoveries and equally amazing translation of these breakthroughs to therapy. We are delighted to feature speakers whose fascination with RNA biology has inspired them to explore the possibilities of harnessing RNA to create therapeutics.”

Scientific co-organizer Angela Messmer-Blust, PhD, senior scientific advisor and assistant professor of RNA therapeutics, added, “By connecting basic and applied nucleic acid scientists, clinicians and industry leaders dedicated to finding new therapeutic cures using RNA, we hope our symposium stimulates discussion and accelerates the application of new biological discoveries to solutions for unmet challenges in human health.”

The RTI is dedicated to leveraging the strong RNA biology and clinical research communities at UMMS to develop novel therapies for which RNA is the therapeutic target or modality. Its faculty members are recognized as scientific trailblazers, and include a Gairdner Prize recipient, the 2018 RNA Society early and mid-career award recipients, and two Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators.

Among the many topics being explored at the conference are the translational and clinical potential of gene editing, CRISPR, antisense oligonucleotides, RNAi and RNA therapeutics, drug delivery vehicles, circular RNA, and the biology of long and small non-coding RNAs.

Dr. Mello, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, the Blais University Chair in Molecular Medicine and distinguished professor of RNA therapeutic, and Nobel Laureate Phillip A. Sharp, PhD, professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, will be presenting on the evolution and biology of RNA respectively. Other presenters include Melissa Moore, PhD, the chief scientific officer for platform research at Moderna Therapeutics and the Eleanor Eustis Farrington Chair in Cancer Research and professor of RNA therapeutics at UMMS; Arthur Kreig, MD, from Checkmate Pharmaceuticals; and Vasant Jadhav, PhD, from Alnylam Pharmaceuticals.

A panel discussion on Friday, June 29, will explore the successes and failures of clinical trials, drug discovery, and the development of nucleic acid therapeutics.