RNA technology hit the headlines during the COVID-19 pandemic. Could it be the key to treating cancer and other diseases? Read about four promising applications for RNA tech.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, RNA research rarely made the news. But as the virus brought much of the world to a standstill, the lightning-fast development of messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines became a mainstay of everyday conversation.

This heightened interest is great news for scientists working in RNA technology, the applications of which extend far beyond vaccines. So, is RNA therapy the future? Can it ease healthcare burdens and generally improve our quality of life? Here are four exciting RNA developments that showcase the technology’s potential.

1. CRISPR-Cas9

CRISPR-Cas9 is a groundbreaking approach to genome editing. It uses an RNA-guided protein (Cas9) to precisely target and edit specific sequences of DNA. This technology has revolutionized our ability to manipulate genes, making it easier, faster and more efficient than ever before.

Scientists first took CRISPR-Cas9 from bacteria’s natural genome editing system, which is used as an immune response. These bacteria have the ability to capture foreign viruses’ DNA, then insert it into their own DNA to remember these sequences as intruders.

Currently, researchers mostly use CRISPR-Cas9 to create animal models of human diseases. In the future, the technology could be used to develop new treatments for human genetic diseases and improve the effectiveness of existing treatments.

2. RNA interference

RNA interference (RNAi) was discovered in 1998. This mechanism in eukaryotic cells uses RNA in a double-stranded form (normally, it’s single-stranded), allowing it to suppress gene expression in specific areas.

This ability to turn genes “on and off” is what makes RNA interference so exciting. Scientists can use the technology to selectively silence the expression of individual genes, thereby studying the role of specific genes in various biological processes.

Further advances in RNAi may allow us to treat diseases that were previously incurable — and not only in humans. RNAi can be used to combat plant viruses by silencing the genes responsible for viral replication or triggering a plant’s defense responses.

3. RNA sequencing

RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) is a lab technique used to study the sequence or expression of a gene. By measuring and comparing the levels of different RNA molecules in a sample, RNA-seq can reveal information about gene expression, alternative splicing and gene regulation.

The advent of next-generation sequencing (NGS) has unlocked new possibilities for RNA-seq, enabling researchers to sequence the entire genome of an organism in a single experiment. In time, NGS may be used to develop personalized treatments by analyzing a patient’s individual genetic makeup.

4. RNA nanotechnology

Prior studies show that RNA regulates cancer-specific genes, so naturally, control over RNA gives you control over these genes as well. This is what genome editing, RNA interference and RNA sequencing try to achieve.

There’s just one problem: the immune system’s natural reaction is to degrade foreign RNA.

The solution? RNA nanotechnology. This is the use of synthetic structures based on RNA to manipulate and control the function of RNA molecules. Because it creates molecular-scale structures, RNA nanotech can engineer large molecules with precise shapes and functions.

In practical terms, this means a revolution in cancer therapies. Researchers are already using nanoparticles to deliver cancer-killing drugs to specific cancer cells while avoiding normal cells.

how Randstad Life Sciences can support your RNA research

Randstad Life Sciences can provide laboratories and pharmaceutical companies with the specialized talent they need to support RNA research. This includes recruiting, onboarding and managing scientists and technicians with expertise in molecular biology, biochemistry and computational biology, among other disciplines. Contact us today to learn more about our flexible staffing, outsourcing and FSP solutions.