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Funding solidifies collaborations, research

“We need this equipment to start new projects and new collaborations,” Rozners says. “With the new instrument, we’ll be able to do much more advanced structural studies on biopolymers and materials, something that the Chemistry Department had not been able to do previously. This is the beginning of a larger initiative to build a new and more powerful NMR laboratory for high-end structural studies.”

Coupled with a special supplement for collaborative science grant Rozners recently received from the NIH, the NSF grant is providing a foundation for him to establish a new collaboration with the University of Rochester to study RNA.

He and his collaborators are looking for ways to chemically modify RNA, a biopolymer that until recently was viewed as a relatively low-key player when compared to DNA. Several recent Nobel Prize-winning studies have found a number of new and unique functions that RNA plays in gene regulation processes. “Many of our genes are regulated by small RNA molecules,” says Rozners. “Can we design our own and use them as drugs? Can we modify them to make them more drug-like? RNA has totally different properties than traditional drugs and it’s not so simple, but chemically altering RNA may ultimately lead to new therapeutic measures such as antibiotics or perhaps even anticancer drugs.”

RNA, a multifunctional molecule that can come in different shapes and lengths, copies information from DNA and then transfers it to proteins, adding unique amino acids to the proteins in the process. RNA can also catalyze chemical reactions. “The question now is, how do you control this process?” asks Rozners. “There are many possibilities of how and where we can interfere.”

Rozners and colleagues are also pursuing a project driven by the notion that we’re approaching an antibiotic crisis. They’re looking at how we can recognize RNA molecules in a selective fashion, change their structure and control their function. Using neomycin, one of the principal active ingredients of Neosporin as an example, Rozners says it’s a very efficient antibiotic, but it can’t be used orally or intravenously because it’s very toxic. “That’s one of the problems we would like to solve,” he says. “We’re looking to develop novel, more selective antibiotics using therapeutic concepts that could help overcome the problem of bacterial resistance.”

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Last Updated: 12/2/09