The National Institutes of Health announced on August 13, 2013 that it will award $17 million this year for 24 research projects designed to improve scientists' understanding of a newly discovered type of cell-to-cell communication based on extracellular RNA, also called exRNA. Through these awards, scientists will explore basic exRNA biology and develop tools and technologies that apply new knowledge about exRNA to the research, diagnosis and treatment of diseases. To unlock the potential of this new scientific field, the awarded research projects will address conditions in which exRNA could play a role, including many types of cancer, bone marrow disorders, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, and multiple sclerosis. The collaborative, cross-cutting Extracellular RNA Communication program is supported by the NIH Common Fund and led by a trans-NIH team that includes the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS); National Cancer Institute (NCI); National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI); National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA); and National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). "We have a tremendous opportunity to explore a recently discovered novel way that cells communicate," said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. "Expanding our understanding of this emerging scientific field could help us determine the role extracellular RNA plays in health and disease, and unlocking its mysteries may provide our nation's scientists with new tools to better diagnose and treat a wide range of diseases." Scientists think exRNA can regulate many functions in the body and may have an important role in a variety of diseases, but they still know very little about basic exRNA biology. Most RNA works inside cells to translate genes into proteins that are necessary for organisms to function.
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