Aptamers: Promising New Tools for Treating Diseases

Left to Right: Li Nui, Al Millis, Hua Shi
 Left to Right: Li Nui, Al Millis, Hua Shi
Working to develop a novel generation of diagnostics and therapeutics are three UAlbany professors affiliated with The RNA Institute: Hua Shi and Al Millis, Department of Biological Sciences, and Li Niu, Department of Chemistry.

Their laboratories use relatively short pieces of RNA known as aptamers as material to design and generate molecular partners to seek out and bind to either normal or disease proteins. Because these RNA-based structures exhibit wide-ranging utility in probing and manipulating biological processes, they are potentially the building blocks of highly specific medical interventions to treat cancer, diseases linked to neurodegeneration, and other illnesses. Recently, the first aptamer- based drug was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treatment for age-related macular degeneration.

Research in the Shi, Millis and Niu laboratories, supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, American Cancer Society, Muscular Dystrophy Association of America, and U.S. Department of Defense, is focusing on metastatic cancers and neurological disease via activation or inhibition of cellular activities, delivery of therapeutics or commandeering cellular defense mechanisms to target diseased cells. The three scientists have been awarded patents and submitted patent applications for this and other research.