More people are becoming familiar with RNA because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the vaccines that have been produced to combat it. Those familiar with RNA technology like this, though, are thinking about messenger RNA, or mRNA, as Dr. Kevin Dalby explains.
As the name suggests, mRNA transports information and helps link DNA to a protein. But, not every molecule of RNA is mRNA.
There are significant differences to understand. In this article, Dr. Kevin Dalby explains what RNA therapies are and how they are used in medicine today.
What RNA Does
Only a small percentage of RNA is actually mRNA, even though the latter is what most people are familiar with. This means that the role of the majority of RNA is not to serve as an intermediary between proteins and DNA.
Instead, RNA helps aid with chemical reactions, can help correct mutated genes, build proteins, and slice up some other RNAs. RNA does this by taking different amino acids and linking them all together.
In recent years, the power of RNA has been harnessed for positive use in medicine.
What RNA Therapy Does
When RNA is used therapeutically, it serves as a tool for correction. In other words, it “corrects” a mistake in a person’s RNA if they have a genetic disease. These mistakes are also called cell mutations.
In these situations, the cell may be missing a protein it needs to function properly. So, RNA therapy can create the protein, for instance, which would get rid of the underlying disease within the person.
Not all genetic diseases come from a broken or missing protein, but those that do can be corrected through RNA therapy.
RNA Therapy is Targeted
RNA therapy is a form of precision medicine. That’s because no two RNA therapies are the same. Every RNA therapy is unique, and it’s explicitly designed for a specific RNA mutation.
Because of this, it’s a highly targeted and precise approach to medicine. Internal therapies designed specifically for one patient, or a small group of patients, were very rare before RNA therapies were developed.
Like anything in life, things personalized to each unique person almost always have a more effective outcome.
RNA Can Silence Genes
One fascinating thing that RNA can do, as Dr. Kevin Dalby explains, is to help correct mutations in genes. In other words, they can turn off the expression of certain genes that cause certain types of cancer.
Genetic therapies that involve RNA can improve the treatments’ efficiency, stability, and accuracy. While delivering the RNA in the precise part of the body where it’s needed always proves a challenge, it’s being done on a more frequent basis today.
By correcting the mutations in genes that cause hereditary cancers, RNA therapies have the power to put a halt to the growth of these types of cancer in more susceptible people.
About Kevin Dalby
Dr. Kevin Dalby is a UT Austin professor of chemical biology and medicinal chemistry, currently working on cancer drug discovery. At the College of Pharmacy at The University of Texas, he is examining the mechanisms of nature and cancer to develop new treatments and teaching and motivating students to conduct research. Dalby is optimistic about the future of cancer treatments.