POLIRNA project gets the European Commission's ERC
Recently, RNA therapies have attracted enormous interest for their use as an innovative treatment for several liver-related diseases and in vaccination against COVID-19. However, the therapeutic potential of RNA therapies in the treatment of other diseases, such as age-related, rare genetic and infectious diseases, is still largely unexplored and the subject of great interest for research.
POLIRNA project (Kits for advanced polymer-lipid nanocarriers for targeted delivery of RNAs to cardiac and skeletal muscle cells) - developed by Professor Valeria Chiono of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering-DIMEAS of Politecnico di Torino - proposes a new versatile nanocarrier platform for the safe and efficient delivery of RNA molecules to target cells in cardiac and skeletal muscle tissue. The nanocarriers will be developed in the form of “research kits” for the in vitro and in vivo pre-clinical validation of novel RNA molecules. POLIRNA will support research on new RNA-based therapies for the treatment of diseases such as heart failure and neuromuscular diseases.
Due to the particularly innovative character and great potential impact of this project, Professor Chiono has been selected as one of the 90 projects benefiting from the ERC PoC-2022 grant from the European Commission’s European Research Council. The grant is aimed at the achievement of a “Proof of Concept”, i.e., demonstration prototypes to explore the commercial or social potential of frontier research projects, and will receive a grant of €150,000 as part of the European Union’s Horizon Europe research and innovation programme.
The main limitation to the development of new RNA-based therapies to date is the lack of effective and safe vectors for delivering RNA molecules to target cells. Indeed, cationic lipid nanoparticles used in preclinical research are affected by cytotoxicity issues, are poorly stable in physiological environment and do not allow targeted delivery of RNA molecules to specific cells. Clinically-approved lipid nanoparticles have a different composition which makes them safe and biocompatible, however they are still affected by poor stability and inability for precise drug delivery to target cells.
“The research partnerships fostered by the use of the new POLIRNA kits will form the basis for the development of new therapeutic strategies – explains Professor Valeria Chiono – This work, in fact, has the ambition of facilitating the development of new RNA-based therapies for the treatment of patients suffering from heart failure and rare neuromuscular diseases, and can be later extended to the treatment of other pathologies, e.g., oncological ones. POLIRNA project aims to develop novel polymer- and lipid-based nanocarriers for effective and safe delivery of RNA to specific target cells by modulating their surface functionalisation. The nanovectors will be developed in the form of “kits for research use”, for the preparation of nanocarriers capable of efficiently delivering RNA molecules (especially siRNAs and microRNAs) to cardiomyocytes and skeletal muscle cells, in order to support preclinical research on cardiac regenerative medicine and neuromuscular disease treatment. The development and validation of the technology will benefit from the collaboration with leading biologists and clinicians in the two fields and with a number of companies supporting research to market transition. The project will strengthen the value proposition of POLIRNA technology compared to current solutions on the market and will support the process leading to the foundation of an innovative start-up company”.
At the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering DIMEAS of Politecnico, Professor Chiono leads Biorecar Laboratory, where PhD students and post-doctoral researchers with complementary multidisciplinary skills work. Biorecar Laboratory offers a multidisciplinary research asset in the field of tissue regeneration, with particular reference to cardiac tissue, developing RNA delivery systems and three-dimensional tissue models for the preclinical validation of new therapeutic strategies, and has been funded with 2 million euros thanks to her ERC Consolidator Grant.
More information on the technology investigated by POLIRNA project can be found on POLHYRNATECH LinkedIn page.