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Rare New Lab Explores Genetic Triggers Of Disease

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Aired 8/11/11

Genes that cause cancer to grow or an immune system to turn on itself—will now be studied at a unique center in San Diego.

— The La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology used a $12.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to build a comprehensive genetic laboratory and genetic library called the RNAi Center.

The new facility is one of only a handful in the world. Its technology is based on a Nobel Prize winning discovery called RNA interface.

RNA is a key genetic component that determines the function of a human cell.

Mitchell Kronenberg, Ph.D., president and chief science officer at the center, said RNA interface works by subtracting one gene at a time, and then testing the function of the cell after each gene is removed.

“We have 26,000 genes. RNA interference means that you understand what the genes do by taking them out one at a time and then see what happens to the cell,” explained Kronenberg.

The RNAi Center’s new equipment can perform hundreds of tests simultaneously—so what use to take years for an experiment can be done in a matter of months according to Kronenberg.

“We can test all of the genes in a single set of experiments. This allows us to ask for example, what makes a cancer cell grow, how many genes are responsible for that growth. Or, what genes are triggering a specific immune response?” explained Kroneneberg.

The RNAi Center officially opens Thursday night. The center will be available for use by scientists throughout San Diego.

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