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What is micro RNA?


What is micro RNA?


A relatively new area of cancer genetics examines the role of ‘micro’ ribonucleic acids (miRNAs), which are short regions of non-coding (i.e., does not encode information to make a protein) genetic material that regulate genes and affect their level of expression.

Because some types of cancers, such as those of the breast, have many subtypes that vary in prognosis, response to treatment, metastasis and chance of recurrence, finding new ways of classifying and discriminating between subtypes will potentially help researchers develop improved methods of cancer detection, diagnosis and more accurate prognosis in the clinical setting.

Additionally, identifying cancer-specific miRNAs could reveal diagnostic biomarkers or novel therapeutic targets, providing new avenues for future research and treatment.

Researchers also suspect miRNAs are involved in the normal regulation of many cellular processes such as immunity, stem cell fate determination, development and even cognitive functions.

Aberrant expression of miRNAs has been implicated in several complex illnesses including cardiovascular disease, hepatitis C, Alzheimer’s disease, as well as various forms of cancer.

miRNAs may help explain certain connections in the cell, and facilitate cross-talk between two cellular communication pathways inside a cell. For example, though the research is unpublished to date, the Notch and FGF signaling pathways may be connected through the effects of miRNAs.      



Cancer is genetic, meaning that it is triggered by alterations or mutations in the genes making up an individual’s genome.  Some cancers are inherited, in which a mutation carried in reproductive cells is passed on from one generation to the next, and is present in cells throughout the body. These mutations reduce the natural defenses of cells and significantly increase the risk of cancer and/or other illnesses. 

Scientists at the Lunenfeld are world-renowned for their pioneering work in hereditary cancers (such as those of the breast, pancreas and colon) and are collaborating with researchers internationally who are conducting genome-wide analyses of genes that impact the risk of breast cancer.



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