The Extracellular RNA Communication (ERC) program is exploring the biology of extracellular RNA (exRNA). Once thought to exist only within cells, in a paradigm shift for science, RNA is now known to be exported from cells as “extracellular RNA” and to play a role in cell-to-cell communication. Since its founding, the program has established data standards, a data portal, and tools and reagents available to the scientific community. The program cataloged exRNA molecules found in human biofluids like plasma, saliva, and urine from over 2000 donors. It also identified potential exRNA biomarkers for nearly 30 diseases, including cardiovascular disease, pregnancy complications, glaucoma, diabetes, and multiple types of cancer.
The program was approved for a second phase in 2019 to focus on challenges in the field. In many ways, opening the door to understanding more about exRNA created new appreciation of the complicated mix of exRNA types and their ‘carriers.’ The study of exRNA and the larger field of Extracellular Vesicles (EVs), one of the major “carriers” of exRNA, has also been stymied by uniform ways to isolate and characterize EVs and their molecular contents, like RNA. The second phase of the program aims to develop separation technologies to rapidly sort different types of EV from biofluids as well as develop techniques to sort and isolate single EVs. Shedding light on the diversity of exRNAs carried by different types of EVs will increase understanding of the precise role of exRNAs as signaling molecules for biological processes, ultimately accelerating development of exRNAs as therapeutics and diagnostics.
This page last reviewed on May 11, 2021