NIEHS to develop new RNAi library to help fight disease

November 12, 2004

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences is undertaking a $3 million, three-year effort to see how specific genes might contribute to environmentally-related disease. NIEHS will develop a new RNAi library to help fight disease through its National Center for Toxicogenomics. RNAi, or RNA interference, is a new technology which silences specific genes.

RNAi technology "turns off" specific genes so scientists can learn more about how the genes influence the cell. Knowing how a gene responds to a stress allows scientists to gain a more comprehensive understanding of how chemicals and toxins can undermine our health.

"This new technology gives us a stronger tool box for understanding the environmental response genes," said Dr. Kenneth Olden, NIEHS Director. "By focusing on the environmental response genes, we're building a library of RNAi molecules that'll help us fight diseases."

The NIEHS project differs from what others are doing by focusing on genes related to environmental health and toxicology. Researchers will be able to more rapidly determine gene function and see which genes are responsible for adverse responses to drugs, chemicals, or other environmental stressors.

"It's a rapid and powerful new tool to augment more traditional and time-consuming methods to accomplish our goal of verifying disease pathways," Olden added. "We're very pleased to carry out this important work that will benefit the entire scientific community by making the information available to the public."

"For a long time, scientists have looked for methods that turn off a gene's influence on the cell which helps us understand the specific gene function," said Olden. "By removing a genetic step from a cellular program and seeing what happens, we gain insight into important cellular responses to stress and ultimately to public health issues like the effects of exposures to environmental toxicants."

The library will be a resource available to the scientific community administered by the National Center for Toxicogenomics. The data will become part of scientific resources offered by NIEHS to the public. A North Carolina-based biotechnology company, Icoria, will carry out the three-year contract, which is the first phase of the NIEHS RNAi initiative.

Part of the National Institutes of Health, NIEHS researches the effects of the environment on human health.

NIH/National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

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