The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded Robert Coffey Jr., M.D., Ingram Professor of Cancer Research at Vanderbilt University, a five-year, $5.2 million grant to study the role of extracellular RNA (ex-RNA) in colorectal cancer.

Dr. Coffey received one of the 24 grants totaling $17 million that were awarded to 20 institutions through the Extracellular RNA Communication program supported by the NIH Common Fund.

Most RNA works inside cells to translate genes into proteins that are necessary for organisms to function. Now, recent findings show cells can release RNA in the form of exRNA to travel through body fluids and affect other cells. Researchers hope to use some kinds of exRNA as biomarkers, or indicators of the presence, absence, or stage of a disease, or to develop new molecular-based therapies.

For his project, entitled “Secreted RNA during CRC progression, biogenesis, function, and clinical markers,” Dr. Coffey’s lab will work with two teams of investigators from the University of California, San Francisco, and one team each from Massachusetts General Hospital and Rockefeller University to examine the mechanisms of exRNA biogenesis (production), distribution, and function.

Dr. Coffey will study the role that altered biogenesis of secreted RNAs in vesicles (exosomes) may play during the progression of colon cancer while working at Vanderbilt with Seth Karp, M.D., Charles Manning, Ph.D., Jeffrey Franklin, Ph.D., Alissa Weaver, M.D., Ph.D., James G. Patton, Ph.D., and Bing Zhang, Ph.D.

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