Since the discovery of the catalytic role of RNAs three decades ago and the discovery of microRNAs two decades ago, the field has exploded with exciting new developments, many made possible by groundbreaking new technologies. Watch this lively panel discussion moderated by Frank Slack and then ask the panelists your questions.
Among other topics, the discussion will focus on:
- How do we better translate discoveries into therapies and diagnostic tools?
- How can one narrow down the most promising target RNAs from a cast of thousands?
- What are the best model systems in which to study them?
- What are the priorities, obstacles and controversies facing the field?
- What does the next decade or even century hold?
Frank Slack, PhD, Harvard Medical School, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Frank Slack, PhD is Director of the Institute for RNA Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and a Professor of Pathology at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Slack received his BSc from the University of Cape Town in South Africa, before completing his PhD in molecular biology at Tufts University School of Medicine. He started work on microRNAs as a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Gary Ruvkun’s laboratory at Harvard Medical School, where he co-discovered the second known microRNA, let-7, and the first human microRNA. He subsequently moved to the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at Yale University, where he was a program leader in the Yale Cancer Center and the Director of the Yale Center for RNA Science and Medicine. There he discovered that microRNAs regulate key human oncogenes and have the potential to act as therapeutics. He also demonstrated the first role for a microRNA in the aging process. In 2014, he became Director of the Institute for RNA Medicine and a Professor of Pathology at BIDMC. Dr. Slack studies the roles and uses of microRNAs and their targets in development, disease and aging. He has been at the forefront of the small RNA revolution. He was on the team that discovered the first human microRNA, let-7, and subsequently showed that it is a tumor suppressor that controls key cancer genes, such as RAS, MYC and LIN28. His lab is developing let-7 and a second microRNA, miR-34, as novel cancer therapeutics with miR-34 already in Phase I clinical trials. They also proved that microRNAs act as key oncogenes and developed strategies to target these oncomiRs for cancer therapy. Their research also extends to discovery of additional novel small RNAs in development, cancer, aging and diabetes as well as identifying novel SNPs in the noncoding portions of the genome with an eye to identifying the next generation of actionable targets in cancer. Dr. Slack was an Ellison Medical Foundation Senior Scholar and received the 2014 Heath Memorial Award from MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Amy Pasquinelli, PhD, University of California, San Diego
Dr. Amy Pasquinelli is a Professor of Biology in the Molecular Section at the University of California, San Diego. The overall goal of the research in the Pasquinelli lab is to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying the biogenesis, specificity and regulatory functions of microRNAs in an endogenous context. Her lab primarily uses Caenorhabditis elegans worms as a model animal system to investigate some of the most challenging problems in this relatively new field of study. The pathways being studied are broadly conserved throughout animal phylogeny and relevant to understanding the role of miRNAs in human development and disease. Research in the Pasquinelli lab has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the American Federation of Aging Research, Keck, Searle Scholar, V, Peter Gruber and Emerald Foundations. Dr. Pasquinelli received her B.A. from Bucknell University with a major in Biology and minors in Chemistry and English. In 1998 she was granted a PhD in Biomolecular Chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dr. Pasquinelli’s postdoctoral training in the Departments of Genetics, Harvard Medical School, and Molecular Biology, Massachusetts General Hospital, was supervised by Dr. Gary Ruvkun. During this time, her research on the newly emerging field of microRNAs was supported by the MGH Fund for Medical Discovery and Helen Hay Whitney Foundations. As a post doc, she showed for the first time that tiny RNA genes, later to be called microRNAs, were present in humans. With a team of collaborators, Dr. Pasquinelli established that the let-7 microRNA and its developmentally regulated expression pattern are broadly conserved across animal phylogeny. It turned out to be just one example of hundreds of microRNA genes that now constitute a new field of study.
Pier Paolo Pandolfi, MD, PhD, Harvard Medical School, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Pier Paolo Pandolfi received his MD in 1989 and his PhD in 1996 from the University of Perugia, Italy, after having studied philosophy at the University of Rome, Italy. He received post-graduate training at the National Institute for Medical Research and the University of London in the UK. He then became an Assistant Member of the Molecular Biology Program in the Department of Human Genetics at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in 1994. Dr. Pandolfi rose through the ranks to become a Member in the Cancer Biology and Genetics Program at the Sloan Kettering Institute; Professor of Molecular Biology and Human Genetics at the Weill Graduate School of Medical Sciences at Cornell University; Professor, Molecular Biology in Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Weill Medical College at Cornell University; and Head of the Molecular and Developmental Biology Laboratories at MSKCC. Dr. Pandolfi was also the incumbent of the Albert C. Foster Endowed Chair for Cancer Research at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. He presently holds the Reisman Endowed Chair of Medicine and is Professor of Pathology at Harvard Medical School. At Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, he serves as the Director of the Cancer Center and the Cancer Research Institute; Director of the Cancer Genetics Program; Chief, Division of Genetics in the Department of Medicine; and Member of the Department of Pathology.
Anita Seto, PhD, miRagen Therapeutics, Inc.
Anita G. Seto is the Manager of Translational Science at miRagen Therapeutics, Inc. miRagen is developing innovative microRNA-based therapies to improve human health. Dr. Seto is responsible for the development and implementation of translational biomarker strategies for miRagen’s early clinical development programs. Therapeutic areas of focus are hematological malignancies and fibrosis. She is applying translational research to design and execute on clinical studies that are rich in molecular and cellular endpoints to inform on drug mechanism of action. Prior to joining miRagen, Dr. Seto was a scientist at Thermo Scientific, Dharmacon Products. In this role, she was responsible for developing microRNA-based microarray diagnostics and tools for microRNA research. She played a key role in the commercial launch of the microRNA diagnostic platform.Dr. Seto was a Damon Runyon postdoctoral fellow with Professor Robert Kingston at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School. Her research objective was to decipher the role of small RNAs in transcriptional regulation, with an emphasis on gene silencing through chromatin structure and modification. To this end, she co-discovered a new class of small RNA silencers, the piwi-interacting RNAs. Dr. Seto earned her PhD in Biochemistry in the laboratory of Professor Thomas Cech at the University of Colorado Boulder. As a graduate student, she discovered that the Sm protein complex, known to be a key structural component of splicing small nuclear RNA complexes, is important for the activity of the budding yeast telomerase RNA-protein complex. She also discovered important structural elements necessary for telomerase RNA function. Dr. Seto received a BS in Chemistry from Stanford University.