Scientist Interview: Exploring the Promise of RNA Switches with Christina Dawn Smolke

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Whether animals are looking for food or mates, or avoiding pathogens and predators, they rely on biosensors—molecules that allow them to sense and respond to their environments. Christina Dawn Smolke, Ph.D. Link to external web site, a professor of bioengineering at Stanford University in California, focuses her research on creating new kinds of biosensors to receive, process, and transmit molecular information. Her lab has built RNA molecules, or switches, that can alter gene expression based on biochemical changes they detect.

In a video interview, Dr. Smolke describes the way RNA switches act like light switches, turning gene expression completely on or off, or only “dimming” it. In the future, Dr. Smolke says, her lab hopes to create RNA switches that can program stem cell differentiation in human patients and make cell therapies that treat cancer more effective, among other applications.

Dr. Smolke also discussed her research in the 2019 DeWitt Stetten, Jr. Lecture.

NIGMS has supported Dr. Smolke’s work under grants F32GM064953, R21GM074767, R01GM077347, R01GM086663, RC1GM091298, and U01GM110699, the first of which was awarded in 2002. She also has received support from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health and the National Cancer Institute.

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