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Johnson Cancer Research Center

Dr. Rob DeLong

Department: Anatomy & Physiology, Nanotechnology Innovation Center
Departmental Website

Feature story in JCRC's 2018 Conquest magazine

"Many cancer patients—human and animal—die from the spread of cancer, called "metastasis." Traditionally, cancer was thought of as a genetic disease, in the sense that mutations in gene sequences caused the proteins they encoded to be over- or under-expressed and to malfunction in and/or on the cancer cells. While this is true, the "middle man" in the process, RNA (ribonucleic acid), was thought to just be the passenger, messenger or transferer of the genetic information, and was, unfortunately, largely ignored. Therefore, until recently, the role of RNA in physiology and medicine has been a bit of a "black box." However, we are entering a new era of RNA discovery, where we are learning RNA acts like an architect and engineer, helping to regulate gene expression and coordinate biomolecular interactions in cells, performing many more important functions than originally thought. For example, RNA gets spliced, much like editing out a portion of a film or movie. Whereas we used to think all cancers were different from a molecular standpoint, we now know that many cancers undergo alternative splicing, and this process is linked to cancer drug-resistance, progression and metastasis.

We are able to load tiny materials called nanoparticles with short RNA sequences designed to correct the splicing process inside cancer cells and re-engineer their genetic pathways, and then deliver these into various types of cancer cells, 3-D culture models and metastases. As part of a growing new field called "RNA nanotechnology," we believe these novel "nanobioconjugates" will serve as new sensors of metastasis and anti-metastatic medicines and give new hope in the fight against cancer.