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Gene-disabling techniques simplified by Stanford team

STANFORD, Calif. - Sometimes the first step to learning a gene's role is to disable it and see what happens. Now researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have devised a new way of halting gene expression that is both fast and cheap enough to make the technique practical for widespread use. This work will accelerate efforts to find genes that are involved in cancer and the fate of stem cells, or to find genes that make good targets for therapeutic drugs.

The technique, published in the February issue of Nature Genetics and now available online, takes advantage of small molecules called short interfering RNA, or siRNA, which derail the process of translating genes into proteins. Until now, these molecular newcomers in genetics research have been difficult and expensive to produce. Additionally, they could impede the activity of known genes only, leaving a swath of genes in the genetic hinterlands unavailable for study.

"siRNA technology is incredibly useful but it has been limited by expense and labor. A better method for generating siRNA has been needed for the whole field to move forward," said study leader Helen Blau, PhD, the Donald E. and Delia B. Baxter Professor of Pharmacology. She said some companies are in the process of creating pools, or libraries, of siRNA molecules for all known genes in specific organisms but these libraries aren't yet available.

Pathology graduate students George Sen, Tom Wehrman and Jason Myers became interested in creating siRNA molecules as a way of screening for genes that alter the fate of stem cells - cells that are capable of self-renewal and the primary interest of Blau's lab. The students hoped to block protein production for each gene to find out which ones play a critical role in normal stem cell function.

"I told them that creating individual siRNAs to each gene was too expensive," said Blau. Undaunted, the students came up with a protocol for making an siRNA libr
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Contact: Amy Adams
amyadams@stanford.edu
650-723-3900
Stanford University Medical Center
13-Jan-2004


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