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The RNA Bioscience Initiative was started in January 2016 with $20 million in funding from the Dean’s Office of the University of Colorado School of Medicine. The program’s first director, Richard Davis, PhD, in collaboration with then associate directors (current co-directors) David Bentley, PhD and Jay Hesselberth, PhD, quickly established a system of support and programming to expand RNA-focused research on the CU Anschutz campus. In addition, they recruited five new faculty– all young, rising stars in the field of RNA biology; and reconnected to the RNA community at CU Boulder, which includes foundational RNA researchers Thomas Cech (Nobel Prize, 1989), Roy Parker (HHMI Investigator, Director BioFrontiers Institute) and many others. These first moves re-energized local and regional interest in RNA biology and lead to the establishment of the RBI as a nationally recognized, cutting-edge hub for RNA research.
Since its inception in January 2016 the RBI has:
2020 was a challenging and scary year for most of the 7.8 billion people on planet earth—and for many, the words Ribonucleic Acid or RNA suddenly became very important and extremely relevant to their daily lives. In late 2019 a novel RNA virus, SARS-CoV-2, emerged as a deadly human pathogen that rapidly spread worldwide, shuttering economies, straining health care systems, sickening tens of millions, and killing millions.
Fortunately, in mid-December 2020, RNA made front-page news once again… this time emerging as a protector rather than a villain. This protection came in the form of the mRNA-based vaccines developed and produced by Pfizer-BioNTech (95% efficacy) and Moderna-NIH (94% efficacy), respectively.
These vaccines reached the clinic at recording-breaking speed, approximately 11 months from inception to approval, yet represent YEARS of hard work by RNA researchers around the world.
RNA biology has emerged as one of the most influential areas in modern biology and clinical science. The discovery of numerous new classes of RNAs and their function in a wide spectrum of biological processes has revolutionized molecular biology and has profound implications for the future of clinically relevant diagnostics and therapeutics.
Unfortunately, major knowledge gaps limit our full understanding of RNA biology. Much remains to be uncovered about RNA and the vast and complicated ways it regulates cellular biology and disease. Key areas of research that demand new and sustained funding include elucidation of RNA biogenesis and structure, identification of RNA subclasses and their function, determination of the role of RNA in disease, and development of the technology and computational expertise needed to translate “wet lab” innovations to the bedside.