RNA Bioscience Initiative

Transformational Research Funding

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 importance of RNA biology was recently described by the National Cancer Institute in this way: “RNA biology has emerged as one of the most influential areas in modern biology and bioscience. 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 clinical sciences. Key areas of current research include the elucidation of RNA biogenesis and structure, the identification of functions for various classes of RNAs, establishing the role of RNA in disease, and the exploration of RNA-based- and RNA-targeted therapies.” 

Researchers have only scratched the tip of the iceberg in realizing the potential of RNA regulatory mechanisms to illuminate biology and advance medicine through development of new therapeutics. RNA therapeutics have the potential to revolutionize development of new treatments as strategies can be implemented to target virtually any disease or process through a common target, RNA. 

The opportunity 

The mission of the RNA Bioscience Initiative is to understand the role of RNA in biology, engage in collaborative research, apply approaches from basic science to translational efforts, and train the next generation of researchers. 

The RNA Bioscience Initiative will make substantial and sustained contributions to answering these questions:

What are the RNAs that drive biological outcomes in healthy and diseased cells, how does their expression change, and how is this regulated?

What are the downstream biological effects that are driven by diverse RNAs and how are these RNA-based processes regulated?

How do these RNAs elicit their effects and what are the details of their mechanisms of action?

Can we exploit this knowledge to create better RNA-based research tools, diagnostics, and therapies that either use RNA or target it? 

Existing strengths 

The Anschutz Medical Campus and the region offer existing strengths that will allow this initiative to excel. The University of Colorado has a history in RNA research and its transition to startup biotechnology companies and the academic environment and degree of collegiality among RNA biologists in Colorado is notably strong. In addition, the University’s Technology Transfer Office has extensive experience in obtaining intellectual property on RNA diagnostics and therapeutics and has spearheaded the transition of these discoveries into the marketplace. 

Investigators on campus have already made important discoveries in the field, covering RNA structure-function, RNA biogenesis, non-coding regulatory RNAs in disease, RNA methods development and mechanisms of regulation by non-coding RNAs. 

Specific aims 

Recruit new faculty members in basic and clinical science

Establish a grants program for RNA-related research projects

Offer training fellowships for graduate students and postdocs

Provide Technology Workshop short courses

Enhancing RNA technology and bioinformatics

Develop a strong RNA Bioscience community


David Bentley, PhD, Director

Richard Davis, PhD, Director

Karen Vockrodt, Administrator
(303) 724-3200

Advisory board

Thomas Blumenthal, PhD, Professor and Executive Director of the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome, University of Colorado School of Medicine and University of Colorado at Boulder

Thomas Cech, PhD, Distinguished Professor, Chemistry & Biochemistry, University of Colorado-Boulder and Howard Hughes Medical Institute

David Engelke, PhD, Professor and Dean, Graduate School, University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus

Roy Parker, PhD, Professor, Chemistry & Biochemistry, University of Colorado-Boulder and Howard Hughes Medical Institute

David M. Rodman, MD, Executive Vice President, Research and Development, miRagen Therapeutics



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