SUNY Poly and UAlbany Receive $459,000 Award from the National Cancer Institute to Research How Lack of a Key Nutrient Promotes Aging and Cancer

Image shows side-by-side headshots of the two lead researchers on the grant: On the left is SUNY Poly’s André Melendez; on the right is UAlbany's Tom Begley.
Left: Dean André Melendez (SUNY Poly). Right: Professor Thomas Begley (UAlbany).

ALBANY, N.Y. (Oct. 3, 2022) — The University at Albany and SUNY Polytechnic Institute announced their collaborating research teams have received a $459,000 grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health, to investigate how a selenium deficiency can chemically modify RNA, which may promote aging and cancer.

This research, led by Interim Dean of SUNY Poly’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE) André Melendez and Thomas Begley, associate director of The RNA Institute in UAlbany’s College of Arts and Sciences, will utilize cutting-edge tools available for biomedical and life science-focused research at both institutions. Concurrently, undergraduate and graduate students attending CNSE and UAlbany will be able to gain firsthand lab experience and training opportunities in RNA science and technology throughout the grant’s three-year research term.

“I am proud to congratulate both Interim Dean Melendez and Professor Begley and their research teams for receiving this grant which will help us better understand the role of selenium and RNA in biological processes, potentially leading to more targeted approaches to slow aging and limit cancer,” said SUNY Poly Acting President Dr. Tod A. Laursen. “This is a prime example of how our faculty members often address important, ‘real-world’ challenges through meaningful research partnerships.”

"This important NIH grant is a perfect example of how SUNY can solve complex research questions not only across disciplines — but also across campuses,” said UAlbany President Havidán Rodríguez. “This research partnership between SUNY Poly and UAlbany scientists leverages the best of our facilities and expertise to support high-impact research that addresses the critical areas of aging and cancer."

SUNY Poly Interim Vice President of Research and Empire Innovation Professor of Nanobioscience Nathaniel Cady said, “I join in offering my congratulations to drs. Melendez and Begley and their respective research groups for earning this NCI grant. I look forward to learning about the results of this research partnership, which will serve to help identify specific biological mechanisms and RNAs that may act as catalysts for aging and cancer growth.”

“The RNA Institute is a national leader in pioneering RNA-based interventions to combat disease, and this collaboration with SUNY Poly and Dr. Melendez is the perfect example of how we can maximize the respective strengths of SUNY institutions in pursuit of discoveries that improve the lives of people across New York and the world,” said UAlbany Vice President for Research and Economic Development Thenkurussi “Kesh” Kesavadas. “Congratulations to Interim Dean Melendez and Professor Begley for securing funding for this important research.” 

Selenium is a chemopreventive compound, meaning it can lower the risk of cancer developing or returning. Selenium is housed in the amino acid selenocysteine, which is attached to specific transfer RNA (tRNA). tRNA is a molecule that, within cells, translates information from messenger RNA (mRNA) to produce the amino acid chains that comprise proteins. These include numerous selenium-containing proteins that protect from free radical damage associated with aging and tumor growth. Selenocysteine-charged tRNA delivered to the 21st amino acid in the protein chain plays a critical role in ensuring the functionality of these proteins.

The research teams have identified that defects in selenocysteine use promotes cellular aging and will test if reversing this defect serves to protect cells and tissues from damage that drives tumor growth.

“I am grateful to the National Cancer Institute, and for our partnership with Dr. Begley and the collaborative work by SUNY Poly and UAlbany’s research offices to support this grant allowing us to better pinpoint nutritional factors spurring aging and cancer development,” said Interim Dean Melendez. “We are excited to pursue this work to unveil how chemical modifications of RNA, like those of DNA, may serve as attractive therapeutic targets for disease intervention, which, if properly addressed, could potentially contribute to longer, healthier lifespans.”

“I am excited to work with the students from both institutions to provide training in RNA technology and molecular-based research to better understand cancer and aging,” said Professor Begley, who teaches in UAlbany’s Department of Biological Sciences. “Both Dr. Melendez and I are thankful for all the hard work from past students and members of The RNA Institute and the commitment of our research organizations to get to this point. We look forward to sharing our new findings in the future.”