Phase 1 Project
Every human develops from just one cell. But that one cell differentiates into trillions of cells, each of which has its own role to play, whether fighting infections, transmitting nerve signals, acting as a protective barrier against the environment, or any other function in the body. For each cell to carry out its assigned task, it has to organize its inner components at precise locations inside the cell. When this organization works, human bodies function as they were intended to. When it doesn’t, however, this can predispose us toward developing diseases such as neuromuscular disorders or cancer.
This organization of cells can be compared to delivering the mail. And just as the post office uses postal codes to direct mail to the right place, there are signature “zipcodes” that do the same with cell components, making sure they end up where they need to be. Most research examining this organizational process has focussed on the role of proteins. Éric Lécuyer, PhD, and his team are directing their attention to another class of molecules, ribonucleic acids, or RNA. The team has already found that RNA molecules appear to play a major role in cellular organization. Now it will work to identify the “zipcodes” present in different types of RNA molecules that transport them to different sites in the cell.
The knowledge they derive will allow them to harness these RNA molecules to manipulate cellular behaviour and develop novel treatments for many diseases that involve defects in cellular organization, including genetic disorders for which no treatments are currently available.