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COVID-19 vaccine: What’s RNA research got to do with it?

Monday, December 14, 2020

The US Food and Drug Administration recently approved emergency use authorization for a COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and the German pharmaceutical company BioNTech.

The vaccine made history not only because it reported a 95 percent efficacy rate at preventing COVID-19 in clinical trials, but because it is the first vaccine ever approved by the FDA for human use that is based on RNA technology.

"The development of RNA vaccines is a great boon to the future of treating infectious diseases," says Lynne Maquat, the J. Lowell Orbison Distinguished Service Alumni Professor in biochemistry and biophysics, oncology, and pediatrics at Rochester and the director of Rochester's Center for RNA Biology.

COVID-19, short for "coronavirus disease 2019," is caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Like many other viruses, SARS-CoV-2 is an RNA virus. This means that, unlike in humans and other mammals, the genetic material for SARS-CoV-2 is encoded in ribonucleic acid (RNA). The viral RNA is sneaky: its features cause the protein synthesis machinery in humans to mistake it for RNA produced by our own DNA.

For that reason, several of the leading COVID-19 vaccines and treatments are based on RNA technology.

A contingent of researchers at the University of Rochester study the RNA of viruses to better understand how RNAs work and how they are involved in diseases. This RNA research provides an important foundation for developing vaccines and other drugs and therapeutics to disrupt the virus and stop infections.

"Understanding RNA structure and function helps us understand how to throw a therapeutic wrench into what the COVID-19 RNA does—make new virus that can infect more of our cells and also the cells of other human beings," Maquat says.

In the past few decades, as scientists came to realize that genetic material is largely regulated by the RNA it encodes, that most of our DNA produces RNA, and that RNA is not only a target but also a tool for disease therapies, "the RNA research world has exploded," Maquat says. "The University of Rochester understood this."

In 2007, Maquat founded The Center for RNA Biology as a means of conducting interdisciplinary research in the function, structure, and processing of RNAs. The Center involves researchers from both the River Campus and the Medical Center, combining expertise in biology, chemistry, engineering, neurology, and pharmacology.

Read More: COVID-19 vaccine: What’s RNA research got to do with it?

David Mathews, MD, PhD installed as first Lynne Maquat Distinguished Professor in RNA Biology

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

We are thrilled to announce that Professor David Mathews, MD, PhD, was honored at this year's School of Medicine Opening Convocation by being installed as the first Lynne Maquat Distinguished Professor in RNA Biology in the School of Medicine and Dentistry. The professorship was awarded by Dr. Mark Taubman, Dean of the School of Medicine and CEO of the University of Rochester Medical Center. The Convocation was held virtually this year and can be viewed at the link below.

Congratulations to Professor Mathews!

Read More: David Mathews, MD, PhD installed as first Lynne Maquat Distinguished Professor in RNA Biology

This week’s URMC Research Heroes featured the Maquat lab’s Tatsuaki Kurosaki, PhD, and Shuhei Mitsutomi, MS

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

This week's URMC Research Heroes featured the Maquat lab's Tatsuaki Kurosaki, PhD, and Shuhei Mitsutomi, MS, who were recognized today for their work on SARS-CoV-2.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CA-QN7oAl07/

Both Tatsuaki and Shuhei have worked as members of the Maquat Lab (Center for RNA Biology and the Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics) during the sequestration on SARS-CoV-2, collaborating with a lab at Harvard to determine the mechanism by which the virus inhibits human-cell nonsense-mediated mRNA decay (NMD) so as to express and replicate its RNA efficiency.

From Tatsuaki: "Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which causes the coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19) pandemic, is a novel enveloped RNA virus carrying a large (~30 kb) positive-sense single-stranded RNA genome. Although human cells innately have an RNA surveillance pathway called nonsense-mediated mRNA decay (NMD) that generally protects cells from infection by many different types of viruses, little is known about how SARS-CoV-2 inhibits NMD to proliferate in human cells. We hope that our research helps to elucidate the molecular mechanisms of SARS-CoV-2 proliferation in human cells, eventually contributing toward the development of therapeutic strategies to combat COVID-19."

University of Rochester RNA Essay Contest: “The role of RNA research in community health”

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Sponsored by the RNA Society & Lexogen, UR RNA Structure & Function Cluster, and UR Center for RNA Biology

Who is eligible: Any University of Rochester graduate student or post-doc with an interest in RNA biology

Entry rules: Essays should be no more than two pages, single-spaced (excluding references, which should be present), 11-point Arial font, with half-inch margins all around.

Prizes: Two prizes will be given out. Gold (valued at ~$1000), and Silver (valued at ~$250). Additionally, winning essays along with photos of the winning authors will be posted on the Center for RNA Biology webpage and featured on the RNA Society's RNA Salon page, offering international exposure.

Details

The UR's Center for RNA Biology is running an essay contest, sponsored by the RNA Society & Lexogen, and UR's RNA Structure & Function Cluster, on "The role of RNA research in community health". This contest, which is open to all UR graduate students and post-docs, aims to promote creative yet data-driven thinking about the importance of RNA in the "big picture".

Considering that reliable technology is required for research in an increasingly virtual world, prizes will consist of a PC or Mac laptop for Gold winners (~$1000), and software licenses or peripherals (e.g., second monitor or laptop dock) for Silver winners (~$250), subject to the needs of each recipient.

Submissions must be emailed to Liz by Monday, July 13th, 2020.

Winners will be announced in the beginning of August.

Links

The RNA Society: https://www.rnasociety.org/

RNA Structure & Function Cluster: http://www.rochester.edu/ucis/rnastructure.html

Center for RNA Biology: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/rna-biology.aspx

Center for RNA Biology Contributes to Fighting Coronavirus

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Viruses like the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 are able to unleash their fury because of a devious weapon: ribonucleic acid, also known as RNA.

A contingent of researchers at the University of Rochester study the RNA of viruses to better understand how RNAs work and how they are involved in diseases. As COVID-19 continues to spread around the globe, RNA research provides an important foundation for developing antiviral drugs, vaccines, and other therapeutics to disrupt the virus and stop infections.

"Understanding RNA structure and function helps us understand how to throw a therapeutic wrench into what the COVID-19 RNA does—make new virus that can infect more of our cells and also the cells of other human beings," says Lynne Maquat, professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of Rochester Medical Center and the director of Rochester's Center for RNA Biology.

In the past few decades, as scientists came to realize that genetic material is largely regulated by the RNA it encodes, that most of our DNA produces RNA, and that RNA is not only a target but also a tool for disease therapies, "the RNA research world has exploded," Maquat says. "The University of Rochester understood this."

In 2007, Maquat founded the Center for RNA Biology as a means of conducting interdisciplinary research in the function, structure, and processing of RNAs. The center involves researchers from both the River Campus and the Medical Center, combining expertise in biology, chemistry, engineering, neurology, and pharmacology.

While much of the research across the University has been put on pause, labs that are involved in coronavirus research remain active.

"Our strength as a university is our diversity of research expertise, combined with our highly collaborative nature," says Dragony Fu, an assistant professor of biology on the River Campus and a member of the Center for RNA Biology. "We are surrounded by outstanding researchers who enhance our understanding of RNA biology, and a medical center that provides a translational aspect where the knowledge gained from RNA biology can be applied for therapeutics."

Read More: Center for RNA Biology Contributes to Fighting Coronavirus