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Anastasia Khvorova elected director of the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy

Annual ASGCT meeting to be held virtually; UMMS scientists serve key roles and will present new research

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

May 11, 2020
Anastasia Khvorova, PhD

UMass Medical School RNA therapeutics researcher Anastasia Khvorova, PhD, has been elected by the membership of the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy as director-at-large/scientific & research council chair. Her three-year term will commence at the conclusion of the society’s annual meeting being held virtually from May 12 to 15.

“I am honored to be elected to the board and am looking forward to expanding society's role in advancing disruptive technologies, like gene therapy, CRISPR, mRNA vaccines and nucleic acid therapeutics with the potential to change the way we practice medicine,” said Dr. Khvorova, professor of RNA therapeutics.

Khvorova is a leading expert in the biochemistry of RNA therapeutics. Scientists in her lab identify the chemical and biological properties that drive small RNA tissue distribution, retention, cellular uptake and biological availability. Their goal is to deliver oligonucleotide and RNA-based therapies to the heart, kidneys, muscle, placenta, vasculature and brain—tissues previously not targeted by RNAi—through chemical engineering.

The Khvorova lab is investigating a cocktail of siRNA and antisense RNA oligonucleotides that are specific for SARS-CoV-2, which in concept could be delivered to all cell types in the lungs and target the mRNA of the virus to significantly reduce the rate of viral replication.

Established in 1996 and now counting nearly 4,000 members worldwide, the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy is the largest association of individuals involved in gene and cell therapy research. Its mission is to advance knowledge, awareness and education leading to the discovery and clinical application of genetic and cellular therapies to alleviate human disease.

Khvorova joins Terence R. Flotte, MD, and Guangping Gao, PhD, whose elections to the board highlight the accomplished scientists and institutional commitment that have made UMass Medical School a world leader in the development of RNA therapeutics.

Dr. Flotte, the Celia and Isaac Haidak Professor of Medical Education, executive deputy chancellor, provost and dean of the School of Medicine, began his three-year term as secretary of ASGCT in 2019. Dr. Gao, the Penelope Booth Rockwell Professor in Biomedical Research, professor of microbiology & physiological systems, director of the Horae Gene Therapy Center and co-director of the Li Weibo Institute for Rare Diseases Research, was elected vice president of ASGCT in 2017, become president-elect in 2018 and president in 2019. He will pass the baton to the next president at the annual meeting.

“ASGCT elections ask peers in the field to evaluate nominees’ scientific leadership,” said Dr. Gao. “Dr. Khvorova’s election is recognition of how rapidly she and her colleagues have advanced the field.”

Members of the Khvorova, Gao, Flotte and other UMMS labs will be among the scientists presenting more than 600 scientific symposia, workshops, education sessions and oral abstract presentations at the 2020 ASGCT virtual meeting. The program reflects advancements that have occurred in gene and cell therapy over the past year with more new abstracts than ever before.

Related stories on UMassMedNow:
Terence Flotte elected to American Society of Gene & Cell Therapy leadership team
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Telegram reports on advancements in RNAi treatments