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The google maps of the brain: locating RNA fragments in brain cells without removing the tissue

Dr. Shahar Alon, who came from MIT to the Faculty of Engineering at Bar-Ilan University, was a partner in the study together with researchers from Harvard and MIT * "Using our technology, researchers and doctors will be able to perform genomic analysis in XNUMXD - to obtain not only the identity of the molecules, but also their location within the tissue and thus treat complex diseases better and more efficiently"

the brain. Photo: depositphotos.com
the brain. Photo: depositphotos.com

For the first time RNA can be mapped in tissues. This was proved by Dr. Shahar Alon who developed a unique technology and published a scientific article about it that was published (today) in the journal SCIENCE . Dr. Alon is part of an international research group that also includes researchers from Harvard and MIT. In the last year, the technology has already started to be used in the Bar-Ilan laboratory. The researchers demonstrated the usefulness of this method in human cancer research and discovered genes that are expressed differently according to the distance from the tumor cells.

Dr. Alon began as a physicist in the nuclear field, but after discovering the wonders of brain research, he decided to combine biology with physics. His laboratory is located in the Faculty of Engineering, and Shahar is also a researcher at the Nanotechnology Institute and the Gonda Brain Center in Bar Ilan.

The DNA, the molecule that carries the hereditary information that is responsible for building the proteins in the cell, is one of the most recognized and studied factors in the field of biology. A slightly less known factor - but no less important - is the RNA. Dr. Shahar Alon: "A comparison between the RNA in the tissue of a healthy person and the RNA in the tissue of a sick person can teach us quite a bit about the disease," says Alon. "In my PhD, I developed computational tools to measure RNA molecules in a better way, both in human brain tissues and in the tissues of many other animals."

After his doctorate, Alon moved to MIT, for a post-doctorate with Professor Ed Boyden, who specializes in developing technologies for brain research. In the five years he was with him, Boyden and Alon developed a new technology for measuring RNA. "Until now, most measurements in the field involved crushing the tissue and removing the molecules for the purpose of measurement, which prevented us from knowing the location of the molecules in the tissue. Our technology makes it possible to measure the total RNA inside the tissues with nanometer precision, without taking them out. Since in any complex tissue it is important to know where the molecules are located - this technology is important for tissue research in general," says Alon.

The technology developed by Alon is particularly important for two areas of research. The first is the study of brain tissue. "The location of molecules in the tissue affects processes such as memory and learning. Our technology makes it possible, for the first time, to measure the location of RNA within whole brain tissues, and to learn which of the molecules participate in the memory and learning processes. From this we will also be able to know if the molecules or their location are damaged as a result of diseases such as Alzheimer's, for example." The second area that the technology may help is cancer research. "One of the most interesting questions today in cancer research is the question of how the immune system affects cancer cells? Our technology makes it possible to see where the cancer cells are in the tissue, compared to the location of the cells of the immune system, and what their molecular content is. One of the things we discovered thanks to the new technology is that cancer cells behave differently when they are close to cells of the immune system, and vice versa. In simple words - tell me who your neighbors are and I'll tell you who you are."

More of the topic in Hayadan:

One response

  1. It looks like a PR article and there is not a single brief mention of how the method itself works

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