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New Research Centre to Develop RNA Medicine for Better Treatment of Metabolic and Endocrine Diseases
Posted on 24.08.2023
Earlier this year saw the establishment of a new research centre focusing on making a difference for people with metabolic disease through RNA medicine. Professor of Medical Biology and member of the DDEA Committee for Education, Louise Torp Dalgaard, will be one of the driving forces behind the new centre.
The Centre for RNA Therapeutics towards Metabolic Disease (RNA-META) at Aarhus University became a reality earlier this summer when it was announced that The Novo Nordisk Foundation backed the establishment of the new research centre with 60 million DKK. The aim is to make a difference for people with e.g. diabetes, fatty liver, renal fibrosis and atherosclerosis.
Professor Louise Dalgaard from Roskilde University will be one of the key figures at the new centre.
– Our focus is on overcoming some of the barriers that exist before RNA-based medicines can be widely used for the treatment of metabolic and endocrine diseases. For example, we aim to target RNA therapeutics to specific relevant cell types. Currently, it is relatively easy to treat liver diseases with RNA medicine, but that is not the case if we want to target the therapy to adipose tissue, beta cells, skeletal muscle, or if we want the drug to cross the blood-brain barrier. Furthermore, we need to develop new forms of RNA medicine, says Louise Dalgaard.
RNA Medicine to Affect Quantity of Any Protein
RNA exists in all our cells and is integral to many essential processes. It acts as a messenger from our DNA code to protein production. The unique aspect of using RNA in drug development is that RNA medicine can theoretically be programmed to affect the quantity of any protein in the body.
– Currently, it is possible to inhibit gene expression by using oligonucleotides that bind to RNA and inhibit or alter its splicing. We will explore the possibilities of making antisense inhibition much more effective, as well as activating genes or overexpressing a foreign or missing protein. This is currently not possible, Louise Dalgaard explains.
The more recent example of widespread use of RNA was the mRNA vaccine for COVID-19, but there is much more potential to unlock.
– The significant potential of RNA medicine lies in opening many new targets for drug development and the potential for RNA medicine to be incredibly specific. Protein- and peptide-based drugs, which are also highly specific, typically do not enter cells but need to act by binding to a membrane-bound receptor. This is typically not the case for RNA medicine, says Louise Dalgaard.
DDEA: Focus on RNA Biology Relevant to Endocrinology, Metabolic and Cardiovascular Diseases
Louise Dalgaard has a long history of activity with the former Danish Diabetes Academy and the new Danish Diabetes and Endocrine Academy. She has been involved with the Summer School, with Visiting Professorships, and she was one of the organisers of the academy’s three big symposia on RNA.
– Through the academy, I have learned a tremendous amount about different fields of RNA biology relevant to endocrinology, metabolic diseases, and cardiovascular diseases. It has also provided me with a large network both in Denmark and internationally, says Louise Dalgaard.
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