Noncoding RNAs as prognostic markers and therapeutic targets in breast cancer (2007–2009)
Normal human development involves a symphony of genetic changes that control the growth and differentiation of different types of cells during embryogenesis. For many years it has been assumed that most genetic information is transacted by proteins, and that the remaining 98% of the human genome that does not encode proteins was (apart from a limited amount of associated regulatory elements) largely non-functional evolutionary junk. However, this may not be the case. Recent results from our laboratory and others have shown that most of our genome and that of other mammals is actually expressed as noncoding RNA, which appears to be developmentally regulated. These RNAs (of which there appear to be tens of thousands, well outnumbering the protein-coding mRNAs) have been referred to as the hidden layer or dark matter of our genome, as they have barely been studied, but appear to play a central role in both normal and abnormal development in humans. There is now increasing evidence that many noncoding RNAs, including small regulatory RNAs called microRNAs, are perturbed in cancer and that these perturbations may be directly involved in, and be an accurate indicator of, cancer state and the direction of cancer progression. If this is true we need to understand the expression and functions of these RNAs in order to develop better diagnostics and perhaps powerful new therapeutics for cancer, based on RNA technology and generic delivery systems. This project will explore the patterns of noncoding RNA expression in normal breast development and in breast cancer, to identify those RNAs that direct or accompany the differentiation of these tissues, and to test the effects of interfering with their expression on these processes. These foundation studies lie at the leading edge of a new understanding of human genetics and cancer, and will provide a platform for future applications in medicine that utilize this information and understanding.