Julie Claycomb

Canada Research Chair in Small RNA Biology

Tier 2 - 2017-11-01
Renewed: 2017-04-01
University of Toronto
Canadian Institutes of Health Research


Coming to Canada From

University of Massachusetts Medical School, USA

Research involves

Exploring the use of a special form of RNA to destroy genes that cause cancer and other diseases.

Research relevance

This research could lead to new treatments for a variety of major diseases, including cancer, infertility and Down’s syndrome.

The Potential of DNA’s Silent Partner, RNA

We are all a mass of proteins. Everything in our body—from hair, eyes and bone to muscle and organs—is comprised of protein. The protein is created by DNA, the molecule that contains our genetic instructions. But the ability for genes to create the protein requires a lesser-known component called ribonucleic acid, or RNA for short. Dr. Julie Claycomb, Canada Research Chair in Small RNA Biology, likens the process to baking a cake. Our DNA is the recipe for the cake. The protein is the finished product, a tasty, fully baked cake, while RNA is the intermediate mix of ingredients listed in the recipe that have the potential to be turned into a lovely dessert. The RNA that acts as the DNA’s intermediary is called messenger RNA. Researchers recently discovered smaller RNA pieces that interfere with messenger RNA (called short interfering RNAs, or siRNAs) and disable the ability of genes to create protein (in a process known as RNA interference, or RNAi). This misregulation can lead to cancer, infertility or conditions such as Down’s syndrome. Claycomb is working to unravel the means by which siRNAs can stop genes from creating proteins, and is pursuing a fascinating possibility: If the process of RNAi can normally stop a messenger RNA from producing a protein, could it be exploited to target and silence mis-expressed genes in a cancer cell? Claycomb is trying to find the answers by using C. elegans, a one-millimetre long roundworm found in soil that has proven remarkably effective in RNAi research. Claycomb’s research has strong potential over the next five to 10 years to be translated into new treatment approaches for a number of complex diseases.