Dr. Anna Zinovyeva
“Our laboratory works on understanding how genes are regulated by tiny RNA molecules called microRNAs. MicroRNAs regulate as much as 60% of all human genes, including those important for the onset and progression of cancer. Changes in microRNA levels are frequently associated with many types of cancers. Consequently, microRNAs show great promise as diagnostic and prognostic cancer biomarkers. Increased expression of oncogenic microRNAs promotes certain cancers, leading to what’s known as “microRNA addicted” tumors. Other microRNAs act as tumor suppressors, and mutations in these microRNAs and their target sites are often found in tumor cells. Overall, both oncogenic and tumor suppressor microRNAs represent attractive drug targets, and several microRNAs are already being tested in pre-clinical and clinical trials. However, in order to efficiently inhibit or promote microRNA activity in tumor environments, we must first have a detailed understanding of the molecular mechanisms of how microRNAs are made and how they function.
We use the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans because many of its microRNAs are identical to human microRNAs, and they regulate many of the same genes. Working with C. elegans allows us to conduct research that uses genetic, molecular, and biochemical approaches to try to understand how microRNAs are made and function. Understanding these mechanisms in great molecular detail should assist in developing better microRNA-centered cancer diagnostic and therapeutic tools.”