Heart Association Awards Grant to University Scientist for Development of New Duchenne Therapies

Margarida Azevedo, MSc avatar

by Margarida Azevedo, MSc |

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The American Heart Association (AHA) has awarded its distinguished Scientist Development Grant to a University at Albany researcher for the development of new therapies to treat Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD).

Bijan K. Dey, PhD, is a faculty researcher at the university’s RNA Institute and is working on a class of small non-coding RNA molecules called microRNAs. His lab is studying how microRNAs maintain normal muscle function and what goes wrong when children are diagnosed with Duchenne MD and associated heart conditions.

“My team is exploring a novel approach for therapy that has not been previously investigated,” Dey said in a press release. “Our goal is to gain a better understanding of the pathophysiology of DMD and DMD-associated heart dysfunctions in molecular detail. We are thankful for the American Heart Association’s support.”

The AHA is awarding a total of $231,000 for this research project through June 2020. It will support not only Dey’s research, but also mentor-based training for some students and future scientists working at The RNA Institute.

At the University of Virginia School of Medicine, where Dey underwent his postdoctoral training, he demonstrated that small non-coding RNA molecules regulate the stem cell population that is key for the maintenance of normal skeletal and cardiac muscle function, and an overall normal state of health.

Dey believes that the support of the AHA will help accelerate his team’s work at The RNA Institute and contribute to a better understanding of DMD, of the processes by which it progresses, and of potential new pathways that can be explored to develop therapy-based treatments.

“Dey’s innovative research program speaks to the vision of The RNA Institute to create translational therapies requiring both basic and applied research on non-coding RNA’s role in muscle development and related human diseases,” said Paul Agris, founding director of The RNA Institute. “Dr. Dey has the knowledge and experience to bring a whole new approach to muscular dystrophy research and take it to a new height.”

A non-coding RNA (ncRNA) is a functional RNA molecule that is transcribed from DNA but not translated into proteins. In general, ncRNAs participate in the regulation of gene activity and appear to be involved in epigenetic processes (changes that occur in gene expression not caused by alterations of the genetic code itself).

There are two main groups of ncRNAs: short ncRNAs and long ncRNAs. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are one of the three major classes of short ncRNAs.