Cancer occurs in more than 2 million individuals every year in Europe alone. It is widely recognized that early diagnosis and monitoring of the disease - during therapy and post-treatment follow-up - is a key step for successful patient management: it helps to offer on-time curative intervention and selecting the most appropriate therapy, improves the quality of life, while contributing to reduce the economic and social burden for both patients and society.
There are screening programs available for early detection of some cancers such as colorectal cancer (CRC). Unfortunately, current CRC screening tests suffer from unsatisfactory sensitivity and specificity and low compliance of the targeted population. On the other hand, there are cancers with poorly performing biomarkers as in the case of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), or no biomarkers at all (e.g. renal cell carcinoma (RCC), which limits not only the screening options but also the diagnostics or monitoring of the disease.
Therefore, there is a need for new diagnostic biomarkers and accurate technologies to enable precise detection of asymptomatic tumors in a short time, low costs and, if possible, with minimal invasiveness and risks for the patients.
From this perspective, cancer-specific small non-coding RNAs (small ncRNAs) circulating in body fluids such as blood serum or plasma represent a very promising diagnostic approach. Small ncRNAs are represented by a wide range of known and newly discovered RNA species in length up to 200 nucleotides (nt) which lack the protein-coding capacity that is associated with gene expression regulatory machinery in all eukaryotic cells. In relation to the tumor biology as well as cancer diagnostic biomarkers, the most examined small ncRNAs are, unambiguously, microRNAs (miRNAs) and PIWI-interacting RNAs (piRNAs). Whereas miRNAs primarily regulate expression of protein-coding genes including oncogenes and tumor-suppressors, piRNAs suppress transposable elements at genomic and epigenetic levels and, thus, play crucial roles in the genome stability maintenance. These facts presume these molecules to be promising cancer biomarkers. Moreover, miRNAs have been repeatedly confirmed that they are highly stable even in harsh conditions including RNase digestion, extreme temperature, and pH, extended storage in frozen conditions and repeated freeze-thaw cycles.
Project RNADIAGON aims at development of personal skills and knowledge of early-stage and experienced researchers working in the field of small non-coding RNA diagnostics from five European research institutions through their long-term stays at one of the world-leading ncRNAs research centers in United States and traineeships at the education center and manufacturing facilities of industrial partner developing small ncRNAs-based certified diagnostics. This research and innovation staff exchange will increase the scientific excellence and quality of related research in the EU research institutions.
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska- Curie grant agreement no. 824036 – RNADIAGON.
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