Cancer Biology & Genetics
Studies cancer-associated microRNAs (miRNAs). MiRNAs constitute a family of small non-coding RNAs that modulate the expression of protein coding genes in a sequence-specific manner.
- Occupation: Scientist
- Alternative career choice: Professional soccer player
- What do rock stars and scienctists have in common: Music and science are more similar than many people think. Both are difficult to do well, but a great song/piece and a beautifully designed experiment can elicit the same awe and emotions.
- Musical Instrument I Play: Guitar (very poorly)
- I tend to approach life: With never ending wonder and with an open mind
- Biggest misconceptions about me or my work: “You need to be a nerd to be a scientist”. Not true, or at least there are exceptions.
- Worst part-time job ever: Even though as a postdoc I spent many nights and weekends doing experiments at the bench, I have never had the impression that it was work. I am still surprised I get paid to have fun.
- Longest med school study session: Having to be in an hospital ward at 6 am for the surgery round was painful. I am definitely not a morning person.
- Best moment in medicine/research: The first time I isolated DNA. I am still filled with awe when I think that that white fluffy precipitate in the test tube contains all the information needed to make a human being starting from a single cell.
About My Research
Disease Area: Lymphomas, prostate cancer, liver cancer.
Research Area: Roles of non-coding RNAs in cancer and development.
Science Impact/Accomplishments or Goal: In collaboration with my colleagues at MIT and at MSKCC I have demonstrated that reactivation of a tumor suppressor gene can induce tumor regression in vivo. More recently, with our colleagues in France, we have identified the first mutation of a microRNA gene causing a hereditary developmental syndrome in humans.
Research Description: We study the portion of DNA that is transcribed into RNA, but is not used to make proteins. This actually account for approximately 90% of the human genome, much more than we previously imagined. We are only beginning to uncover its many functions and it is a very exciting time.
Andrea Ventura, MD, PhD, Geoffrey Beene Junior Chair
Our lab studies cancer-associated microRNAs (miRNAs). MiRNAs constitute a family of small non-coding RNAs that modulate the expression of protein coding genes in a sequence—specific manner. They are found in all bilateria and account for a significant fraction of vertebrate genes. The human genome, for example, contains over five hundred miRNAs. Despite the intense scrutiny they have recently received, the exact biological function of most miRNAs is still largely unknown.
A small, but relevant, number of human miRNAs have been recently shown to participate in the pathogenesis of human cancers, acting as oncogenes or as tumor suppressor genes, or affecting the metastatic process. The goals of our lab are to investigate the biology of this subclass of miRNAs, understand their normal functions in development and tumorigenesis, and determine whether they can be used as effective novel anticancer targets.
In our quest, we are greatly helped by our fellow mammal, the laboratory mouse. By introducing targeted mutations in the mouse genome we are able to study the consequences of inactivating or ectopically expressing individual miRNAs or even entire families of miRNAs. Our recent work on Oncomir-1, arguably the most famous of the oncogenic miRNAs, well illustrates the power of this approach. (Ventura et al. Cell 2008).