Insights into Editorial: RNA technologies and India’s path forward
Due to widespread popularity of DNA based technological developments, new advances in ribonucleic acid (RNA) research often go unnoticed. RNA—essential for regulation and expression of genes—has already been the subject of research, in areas such as RNA interference (RNAi) and antisense technology. While RNAi is a gene silencing technology that inhibits protein synthesis in target cells using double-stranded RNA, antisense technology achieves the same result through single-stranded RNA.
Significance of RNA technologies for India:
- RNAi has huge significance within the Indian context, considering the deep-seated resistance over the years to Bt cotton and other genetically modified seeds. RNA-reliant solutions could be a viable alternative.
- RNAi technologies are also now known to formulate drugs capable of reducing cholesterol levels by half. This technology also finds immense importance in treating acute viral infections like acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), perhaps because of the well-studied life cycle and pattern of gene expression of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
- Antisense technology too has shown promising results in producing a variety of tomato with increased shelf-life commonly known as Flavr Savr. The future could potentially be witness to the use of antisense technology to target cancer.
Constraints hampering the growth of these technologies in India:
- Very few companies working with these technologies in India.
- Poor translation of this nucleic-acid based therapy to clinical studies.
- Lack of efficient and targeted delivery vehicles for these potential RNA molecules. Though this is one of the objectives of a stand-alone programme on nano-biotechnology under department of biotechnology, research gaps continue to exist.
- The relatively minimal development of silencing reagents that ensure significant, specific, consistent and lasting knockdown of the target gene.
What needs to be done now?
- Develop domestic facilities focusing on nanotechnology-based targeted RNA-delivery product development.
- Nanotechnology being a multidisciplinary field must evoke cooperation and partnership among government ministries (both at the Central and state level), research organizations, and private sector donors.
- At all levels of government, there must be active collaboration with research institutions in the US, Russia, Japan, and other early movers in this space, in terms of the training and development of human resources.
- Academic institutions and governmental agencies must organize nationwide seminars and symposiums to highlight the importance of nanotechnology in the fourth industrial revolution.
- Start-ups in the bioinformatics field must work on developing design algorithms for the development of safer, less toxic and more stable silencing reagents. While India has seen some progress in this area, sustainable improvements in bioinformatics research would require an increased number of trained scientists becoming experts in the discipline.
With the advances in nanotechnology and bioinformatics in place, India can be an attractive destination for a number of multinational pharma companies to either outsource some part of their research to India or buy the siRNA products or nano-carriers for RNA delivery from India. This can give a significant push to India’s gross domestic product (GDP) as well as help Indian companies do more innovative work in this space through knowledge-sharing and collaborations.