About 70 percent of our genes provide the blueprint for biomolecules whose function is only now being discovered -- non-coding RNAs. Instead of being translated into proteins, they seem to perform steering functions in the body. Stefanie Dimmeler was one of the first researchers to prove that the sub-group of micro-RNAs plays a role in regenerating blood vessels. She has now received the coveted ERC Advanced Investigator Grant from the European Research Council (ERC), which will allow her to study another large group of non-coding RNAs. She believes that this group plays a role in creating heart attacks, strokes and cancer. ERC has awarded her 2.5 million Euros over the next five years.
"If you asked me what was special about the evolutionary development of human beings, I would say it´s the more than 30,000 non-coding RNA, most of which we only share with primates," says Stefanie Dimmeler. From the perspective of her research area, cardiovascular regeneration, it is especially noteworthy that vascular illnesses like arteriosclerosis, which causes heart attacks, only occur in their typical form in humans. There are many indicators that long, non-coding RNAs, lncRNAs for short, control these illnesses. They affect the inside layer of the blood vessels, known as endothelial cells, and help supply the organs and tissues with oxygen and nutrients.
The technologies used to track these lncRNAs and their complex functions are much more complicated than finding proteins. Dimmeler and her working group identified two candidates, Angiolnc1 and Angiolnc2, that regulate the functions of endothelial cells. Now she wants to study the molecular epigenetic mechanisms that these two lncRNAs use to trigger vascular illnesses. The goal of this research is to identify new treatments for preventing arteriosclerosis, in order to reduce the incidence of heart attacks and strokes.
In the third part of her project, Dimmeler will study whether ring-shaped lncRNAs, which have special protection once they are released into the blood, can be used as biomarkers for identifying illnesses in the vascular system or the heart. To this end, she will work with her group to develop tests that can be used to find these biomolecules in patients' blood during the various stages of cardiovascular illnesses.
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