The objective of a group of universities and companies working together in the miRNA-DisEASY project is to develop a novel detection platform to diagnose lung cancer from early stages. The University of Trento is a member of the consortium – coordinated by Optoelettronica Italia srl (Optoi), a Trentino-based company specialized in optical sensors and micro-electronic technology – with the Laboratory of RNA Biology and Biotechnology of the Centre for Integrative Biology (Cibio). Within the project, the Laboratory of RNA Biology and Biotechnology, headed by Michela Denti, will work to identify microRNAs that can be used as biomarkers for lung cancer and to implement their recognition through a diagnostic device developed by the participating companies.
“miRNA-DisEASY” (microRNA biomarkers in an innovative biophotonic sensor kit for high-specific diagnosis) is a 4-year project that started in December 2015 and received a 450,000 euro research funding from the European framework programme for research and innovation Horizon 2020 under the Marie Sklodowska Curie Action – Research and Innovation Staff Exchange (MSCA-RISE), implemented through international and intersectoral mobility of research staff and highly qualified personnel.
For students, researchers, businesspersons and other interested persons, a presentation of the project to understand its scope and the perspectives of development of novel diagnosis systems that combine chemistry, optoeletronics and bioinformatics, will take place on 6 February, with a workshop on: MicroRNAs and innovative technologies for human diseases diagnosis. The workshop, in English, will start at 13.45 at Cibio (Polo scientifico e tecnologico Fabio Ferrari, sala A103, Povo – Via Sommarive, 9).
«MicroRNAs (miRNAs) – explained Michela Denti – are molecules of non-coding RNA that regulate gene expression. While miRNAs were first discovered in 1993, only recently have scientists learned about the extension and diversity of this class of genes; just think that a single miRNA can block the protein synthesis of over 6,000 different genes. The interest of the scientific and clinical community for miRNA has increased significantly in recent times, as they are new potential markers for the diagnosis and evolution of various types of tumour and other diseases, including cardiovascular diseases. Some miRNAs are currently under clinical evaluation as biomarkers for breast cancer, type 1 and 2 diabetes, asthma, sepsis, prostate cancer, leukaemia, and a number of paediatric tumours».
What is the potential of miRNAs? «miRNAs – continued Denti – have all the characteristics of the ideal biomarker, in clinical, analytical and practical terms. They provide reliable signals before the emergence of clinical symptoms (early diagnosis), are sensitive to changes in the disease (its evolution or reaction to treatment), are easy to detect in fluids (blood, urine, saliva) through liquid biopsies and can be easily transferred from laboratory models to humans».
What makes the use of these biomarkers difficult? «At the moment, microRNA are not much used as valid biomarkers in clinical practice – clarifies Denti – because current technologies are unable to ensure a cost-effective and reliable analysis method». The “miRNA-DisEASY” consortium takes on the challenge of developing a novel, cost-effective and reliable detection kit for lung cancer diagnosis based on the use of microRNA as biomarkers».
The miRNA-DisEASY consortium
In addition to the project coordinator, that is Optoelettronica Italia srl (Optoi), a Trentino-based company specialized in optical sensors and micro-electronic technology, the consortium also includes DestiNA Genomica SL, a Spanish biotech company currently engaged in the development of a chemical technology for the recognition of specific nucleic acid sequences. The other partners are, apart from the University of Trento with its Laboratory of RNA Biology and Biotechnology at Cibio, the University of Granada (Spain) and the Federal University of Santa Catarina (Brazil), Hannover Medical School (Germany) and GeneXplain (Germany), a bioinformatics company.
As a sign of the good synergies between industry and the academic world, the development of the device has already been partly funded by a group of Brazilian investors of Italian ancestry (Trentino and Veneto) from Chapecò (Santa Catarina, Brazil). In November, a Brazilian delegation visited Optoi and Cibio and viewed a demonstration of the prototype in Cibio’s laboratories.