Actualité - Award

The challenge of Alena Shkumatava: screening non-coding RNA

Anne Coppola
02/21/2019
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Researcher Alena Shkumatava has just been awarded an ERC Proof of concept, a grant from the European Research Council. This prestigious fellowship will help her continue her research on non-coding RNA in the hope of discovering new therapeutic strategies against cancer.
Alena Shkumatava

Alena Shkumatava is one of sixty awardees of the European Research Council (ERC) Proof of Concept 2018 grant. The objective of this European funding, which can be up to 150,000 euros over 18 months, is to promote the results of a research project and to highlight its innovation potential. In France, only four applications were selected. At the Institut Curie, Alena Shkumatava obtained funding for her incprint-drug project, a "platform for drug discovery targeting RNA".

Very few women get ERCs, so I will put all my determination and energy into successfully carrying out my research. Especially since there is a great tradition of success for women here at the Institut Curie! It is a magical and historic place: Marie Curie is an inspiring woman for her time, and she still is today.

Alena Shkumatava set up her laboratory at the Institut Curie in 2013, in the Genetics and Development Biology unit (U934 Inserm / UMR 3215 CNRS). This Belarusian researcher has followed a very prestigious professional career path: undergraduate studies in biology at the University of Vienna in Austria, a PhD in genetics and microbiology at EMBL (European Molecular Biology Laboratory) in Heidelberg, Germany and post-doctoral studies at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The focus of her research is non-coding RNA, i.e. RNA derived from transcribed DNA, but that is not translated into proteins. "We recently realized, through sequencing technologies, that some of the RNA is non-coding," she explains. “We know that all DNA is transcribed into RNA, but only 1% of it, i. e. the genome, codes for proteins. Thus, the majority (99%) does not code for proteins, but we do not know what it is used for..." What is certain is that it plays a key role in the expression of proteins, whether normal or pathological. Today, the challenge is therefore to understand exactly the role of this non-coding RNA.

From the scientific publications on the subject, we know that it contributes to normal development, but also to the appearance of certain diseases. The question is: does it play a direct or indirect role on proteins and to what extent? It's an extremely exciting subject! 

Thanks to the ERC grant, Alena Shkumatava will be able to go further and implement an innovative technology (incPRINT) that she and her team have developed. incPRINT is a platform for identifying, observing and quantifying the interactions between non-coding RNA and nearby proteins. Since bad interactions between RNA and proteins can often lead to dysfunctions (antibiotic resistance, the appearance of pathologies such as cancers, etc.). "The platform we have developed is able to specifically identify these RNA/protein interactions, and we can do so quickly. The idea is that if we manage to identify these interactions and quantify them, then we can modulate or block them and why not target them for therapeutic applications...", the researcher explains enthusiastically. In short, the idea is to establish a kind of "map" of RNA interactions with proteins. 

All the conditions are in place to carry out my project in a stimulating environment: I have the opportunity to work with multidisciplinary teams in an international context and to have all the necessary technical resources.