NIH awards $500,000 to various miRNA biomarker studies

GenomeWeb updates us on a few biomarker projects that have attracted the attention, and funding, of the National Institutes of Health, which gave them a combined total of about $500,000. They all involve short segments of RNA, called microRNAs (or miRNAs), which are potential biomarkers for certain diseases.

Hushan Yang, a researcher at Thomas Jefferson University, will look at how miRNAs influence how chronic hepatitis B can lead to hepatocellular carcinoma. Only about 20% of those with HBV infection go on to develop the cancer, so this shows the need for a "clinically acceptable risk-assessment model," GenomeWeb reports. MiRNA fits the bill because they have been linked to HBV-related liver cancer, are stable in serum and are a "valuable resource for miRNA-based biomarker research," the researcher's abstract says. His goal is to identify miRNA expression signatures that can predict development of disease in patients with chronic HBV infection. The grant, worth $202,275 in its first year, runs until August 2013.

GenomeWeb also reports on Robert Blelloch of the University of California, San Francisco, who is getting $201,623 from the NIH to study how miRNAs can be used as biomarkers in prostate cancer patients who are under active surveillance. "Patients on active surveillance are monitored through PSA kinetics and serial biopsies followed by radical intervention in the case of disease progression," but those approaches are only "modest predictors of adverse pathology following radical-prostatectomy," he wrote in the grant's abstract. This suggests "a need for novel biomarkers to detect significant disease."

And Susan Ingraham, of Nationwide Children's Hospital, is getting a $149,472 NIH grant to identify early biomarkers for kidney malformations called congenital obstructive nephropathy that affect young children. She believes that miRNAs may play a role in how kidneys respond to congenital urinary obstruction. Ingraham will use a mouse model to discover potential miRNA biomarkers.

- read more details on GenomeWeb