Message from the Director, Thomas Duchaine, PhD

Photo portrait of Dr. Thomas DuchaineWelcome to the McGill Centre for RNA Sciences.

A joint effort between the Faculties of Medicine and Health Sciences, Engineering and Science, the McGill Centre for RNA Sciences (MCRS) harnesses the tremendous potential of RNA functions in biotechnologies and treatments for a broad variety of human diseases, from viral and parasitic infectious diseases to multiple types of cancer, to rare and ultra-rare diseases.

Millions of lives were saved during the COVID-19 pandemic through the rapid development of mRNA-based vaccines against SARS‑CoV‑2. RNA became a household term overnight, but the research behind the vaccines represented decades of work by leading experts, including our own Nahum Sonenberg. The MCRS, founded in 2022, builds on that research, as well as the widespread emergence of CRISPR and other RNA technologies, to develop more potentially life-saving therapeutics, diagnostic and biotechnological tools.

RNA’s structural flexibility is the key to its therapeutic potential. Something of a shape-shifter, it can perform a great variety of informational, regulatory and enzymatic functions, which in turn means that by changing the sequence of the RNA a completely new therapeutic can potentially be created – again and again, for different clinical applications. Tailoring RNA’s chemistry to make it more biologically potent, stable or improve its delivery in patients can amplify its potential even more. All of this has huge implications for getting these discoveries from the lab to the clinic, including reducing costs, speeding up development times and improving efficacy.

Creating technologies or therapeutics from a highly complex group of biological molecules like RNA requires expert input from a wide range of fields. The creation of mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines, for instance, would not have been possible without the deep and robust research undertaken by investigators in medicine, engineering and bioengineering, biology and biochemistry, to name a few. To facilitate the seamless acceleration of RNA discoveries, we have put interdisciplinary collaboration at the heart of the MCRS, uniting over 35 groups led by experts involved in RNA research across McGill, and creating a space for collaborations to flourish between these diverse units within the University, as well as with partners in other academic and clinical institutions and industry.

Breakthroughs in the RNA sciences point to its transformation into a full-fledged industry, resulting in a broad range of emerging opportunities for trainees. With the MCRS, Canada is at the forefront of training the next generation of RNA scientists for careers in academia, industry, clinical settings, pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries and entrepreneurship.

I am deeply honoured to be part of this centre for innovation, collaboration and world class scientific investigation and education. The dynamic multicultural and multilingual city of Montreal, at the confluence of clinical, academic and industry excellence, provides us with an ideal setting for our undertaking. The pandemic opened the world’s eyes to the therapeutic potential of RNA, and the public is eagerly anticipating its next clinical applications. The MCRS will deliver. I hope you will join us.

Thomas Duchaine, PhD
Director, McGill Centre for RNA Sciences
Associate Director, Rosalind and Morris Goodman Cancer Institute
Professor, Department of Biochemistry

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