Newswise — BOSTON – The Cancer Center and the Department of Pathology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) has opened a new state-of-the-art facility dedicated to the study of non-coding RNAs (ncRNA). The Non-Coding RNA Precision Diagnostics and Therapeutics Core Facility will help accelerate the discovery and translation of ncRNA diagnostics and therapeutics, with the hope of leading to better cures and treatments for disease.

While ncRNAs constitute more than 90 percent of the RNAs made from the human genome, most of the 30,000-plus known ncRNAs have been discovered in the past 10 years and are largely unstudied. Like its better known counterpart DNA, which contains instructions for building the proteins all life depends on, RNA molecules play an integral role in coding, decoding, regulation and expression of genes. But the vast majority of RNAs—about 98 percent of them—were long considered meaningless “junk.”  

“The ncRNA Core Facility will focus on the non-coding RNA portions of the genome for discovery of novel biomarkers and targets for therapeutics from human disease tissue and clinical trial specimens,” said Frank Slack, PhD, Director of the Harvard Medical School (HMS) Initiative for RNA Medicine (HIRM) at the BIDMC Cancer Center and the HMS Shields Warren-Mallinckrodt Professor of Medical Research at BIDMC.  “Our initial focus will be on cancer, but the work has profound implications for a broad range of human disease diagnostics and therapeutics.”

“We cannot begin to talk about personalized medicine when we only understand two percent of the genome,” said Pier Paolo Pandolfi, MD, PhD, Director of the Cancer Center and Cancer Research Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Co-Director of the HIRM at the BIDMC Cancer Center, and the George C. Reisman Professor of Medicine at HMS. “Non-coding RNAs are now known to be abundant, and their detection and characterization requires specialized technologies for purification, delivery, imaging, bioinformatics and RNA sequencing. With the new ncRNA Core Facility, we are poised to identify new targets and develop new treatments for a wide range of diseases — including cancer.”

The new 1,393 square foot, self-contained lab facility, is located in a building on BIDMC’s East Campus at 330 Brookline Avenue, Boston, adjacent to other research and clinical operations and is easily accessible to other major academic institutions as well as to biotech and pharmaceutical companies in Greater Boston. The ncRNA Core Facility is a central player in the HMS Initiative for RNA Medicine (HIRM), hosted by the Cancer Center at BIDMC. The HIRM brings together leading investigators in the field to accelerate investigations into how ncRNA functions and how these insights can be used to develop new therapies.

“The diversity, complexity and specificity of non-coding RNAs provide extraordinary opportunities to advance disease detection and treatment,” said Jeffrey E. Saffitz, MD, PhD, Interim Chief Academic Officer and Chief of the Department of Pathology at BIDMC, and Mallinckrodt Professor of Pathology at HMS. “Identifying and characterizing disease-critical ncRNAs requires specialized technologies, informatics pipelines and equipment, all of which will be provided through this new dedicated ncRNA Core Facility.”

To achieve the goals of precision ncRNA diagnostics and therapeutics, the ncRNA Core Facility will offer a full range of services, introduced over time, in three main areas:

  • Detection: The facility will provide state-of-the-art methods for detection, quantification and discovery of ncRNAs, including in clinical specimens.
  • Bioinformatics: Researchers will have access to specialized bioinformatics for interpretation of ncRNA discoveries in the facility’s dry lab.
  • Delivery: Delivering targeted ncRNAs to diseased tissue will facilitate access to clinical trials and allow scientists to conduct successful pre-clinical science.

The ncRNA Core Facility offers wet lab capabilities for ncRNA biology and dry lab capabilities, including ncRNA bioinformatics. “This combined range of services is not available anywhere else,” explained Slack, who also has appointments in the Department of Medicine and the Department of Pathology at BIDMC. “This core facility provides investigators not only the ability to identify new targets and biomarkers, but also ability to validate them as relevant to the disease they are studying. Our aim is eventually to go all the way to designing molecules that could lead to treatments – truly a concierge service unique among academic medical centers.”

About Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is a patient care, teaching and research affiliate of Harvard Medical School and consistently ranks as a national leader among independent hospitals in National Institutes of Health funding.

BIDMC is in the community with Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Milton, Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Needham, Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Plymouth, Anna Jaques Hospital, Cambridge Health Alliance, Lawrence General Hospital, MetroWest Medical Center, Signature Healthcare, Beth Israel Deaconess HealthCare, Community Care Alliance and Atrius Health. BIDMC is also clinically affiliated with the Joslin Diabetes Center and Hebrew Rehabilitation Center and is a research partner of Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center and the Jackson Laboratory. BIDMC is the official hospital of the Boston Red Sox. For more information, visit