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Scientists Represent the Salk Institute and University of Marburg

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Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. has announced that members from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and the University of Marburg have joined the RNAi Global initiative — an alliance of Thermo Scientific Dharmacon Products team and international research centers.

Founded in 2005, the RNAi Global Initiative is pioneering the use of whole-genome RNA-interference screening, widely viewed as a fundamental breakthrough in biological research and drug discovery. Members share information and develop common research standards to advance the productivity of RNAi gene-silencing techniques.

“We are gratified that institutions of this caliber continue to join the RNAi Global Initiative,” said Michael Deines, vice president of sales and marketing for Dharmacon Products at Thermo Fisher Scientific. “Each new member brings unique expertise from different fields of study, illuminating new approaches to integrating RNAi into science and medicine.”

With the addition of the two new members, the RNAi Global Initiative now represents 23 research institutions in 11 different countries. According to Mr. Deines, the combined activities of the member institutes account for the majority of all genome-wide screening conducted globally.

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, based in La Jolla, Calif., has created a chemical genetics screening facility, relying on small-molecule libraries and high-throughput systems. The facility is expanding its activities to include genome-wide screening under the direction of Thomas J. Baiga, staff chemist in the Chemical Biology and Proteomics Laboratory.

With the recent addition of the Thermo Scientific Dharmacon siRNA (short-interfering RNA) library, the facility is expected to become a center for chemical and systems biology supporting research in a number of areas, including cancer, metabolism, aging and basic and applied neurobiology, systems biology and plant research. Initial genome-wide screens will serve research projects led by Jan Karlseder, Hearst Endowment associate professor.

Dr. Karlseder’s goal is to define pathways that lead to genome instability during cancer development, with a focus on telomere function during the cell cycle. A telomere is a region of highly repetitive DNA at the end of a linear chromosome that may play a role in the aging process.

“Given the diversity of studies here at the Salk Institute and the talent and creativity of our principal investigators, it is going to be busy but very exciting in our lab,” said Baiga. Dr. Karlseder added: “We are joining the RNAi Global Initiative to learn from the experiences of others who have already established screening centers. As new relationships develop within this group, we will all have a greater impact in science.”

At the University of Marburg in Germany, Professor Dr. Martin Eilers is co-director of the Institute for Molecular Biology and Tumor Research. He is researching the function of a special oncogene — MYC — which plays a role in most major human cancers. He has begun whole-genome siRNA screening to seek novel gene targets for cancer drugs.

By silencing the expression of specific genes, Prof. Eilers can hunt for those that are essential for the growth of MYC-induced tumor cells but when “turned off” do not harm healthy cells. Drug development could then target those genes to destroy the cancer cells without harming normal cells in the body. Prof. Eilers said he chose siRNA as the screening platform because of its efficiency in gene knockdown, and he believes that being part of the RNAi Global Initiative will help him to apply this technology more effectively.

“This is the key group developing this technology worldwide,” said Prof. Eilers. “We hope to learn from the vast experience of the members, allowing us to make the most of this important tool in our experiments.”