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Currents--University of Rochester newspaper

New 'antisense' technology targets RNA

Chemists at the University have invented a new type of "antisense" technology that provides a simpler and less expensive method to knock out RNA, the molecules which carry out the genetic instructions encoded in DNA. The University has filed for a patent on the work, which was published in the August 20 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The new technology works by throwing off the dynamics of an entire RNA molecule, in the same way modifying the tail of a kite changes the way the kite flies in the wind. Unlike conventional antisense technology, the new method subtly changes the dynamics of a folding RNA molecule by attaching a small oligonucleotide to it, causing a change in the molecule's final shape.

"The technology makes it possible for us to force a molecule to assume a nonfunctional shape," says team leader Douglas Turner, chemist in the Center for Human Genetics and Molecular Pediatric Disease at the Medical Center and professor in the Department of Chemistry. "It's like making the molecule change from a square knot to a slip knot. You change the dynamics of the RNA and cause it to fold into the wrong shape."

The research, funded by the National Institutes of Health, builds on previous work by Turner and Michael Zuker of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute that predicts how RNA sequences fold up. The pair has developed a computer program available on the Web that other researchers use to analyze more than 50,000 RNA sequences each year.

The research conducted by Turner's team--comprised of graduate students Jessica Childs and Matthew Disney--may translate into savings for pharmaceutical companies that produce antisense drugs and could also result in fewer drug side effects, says Turner.

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