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Polish research centre unlocks the potential of mRNA treatments

The potential for mRNA goes well beyond the COVID-19 vaccine. With the support of the EU-funded MOSaIC project, one research centre in Poland is conducting cutting-edge research in the field, paving the way for new treatments against diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and genetic conditions.

©xyz+ #545479249 source: 2023

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If there’s a silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s the advancement of the mRNA vaccine.

Traditional vaccines prime the immune system by injecting weakened or inactivated germ material into our bodies. By contrast, the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines carry messenger RNA (mRNA), a set of genetic instructions for building a harmless viral protein. Once inside the body, our own cells use these instructions to build the proteins, providing the immune system with the reference it needs to recognise and fight the virus in the future.

Yet COVID-19 is just the tip of the needle in terms of what mRNA can do. “Technologies based on RNA and cell biology have great potential for therapeutic use in treating numerous human diseases, including viral infections, cancer, rare congenital diseases and even neurodegeneration,” says Jacek Kuźnicki, coordinator of the EU-funded MOSaIC project, and former director of the International Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IIMCB) in Warsaw, Poland.

An outstanding researcher

The IIMCB is an internationally recognised research institute where cutting-edge research meets innovation. In 2018, the institute launched the MOSaIC project, part of the ERA Chairs Horizon 2020 programme.

ERA Chairs actions help universities and research organisations attract and maintain high-quality human resources under the direction of an outstanding researcher and research manager. At the IIMCB, this outstanding researcher is Andrzej Dziembowski.

As head of the Laboratory of RNA Biology, Dziembowski oversees a team of 20 researchers, publishes in top journals and successfully applies for national and international grants. Among these is an ERC Advanced Grant for the ViveRNA project, which focuses on understanding the mechanisms that regulate the stability of both endogenous and therapeutic mRNAs. This was the first time such a grant was awarded to a Polish scientist in the life sciences.

Dziembowski also heads a large collaborative grant called the HERO Virtual Research Institute (WIB), which is funded by the Polish Science Fund. This project aims to develop the next generation of mRNA cancer immunotherapies.

“I strongly believe in the success of the planned work, especially since research in RNA biology is one of the most promising and actively developed directions in the life sciences, with great potential for application in medicine,” notes Dziembowski.

Beyond RNA research

With the help of the MOSaIC project, RNA became one of the IIMCB’s main specialisations, together with cell biology. IIMCB’s work in both domains will result in the identification of mechanisms of human diseases and novel drug targets that can be translated into clinical applications, drugs, vaccines and diagnostic markers.

But the project also contributed to other strategic developments of the IIMCB. For example, Dziembowski has founded and scientifically supervises a business-oriented Genome Engineering Unit. The unit offers the research community a broad range of genetic modifications to mice using the CRISPR/Cas9 methodology, along with a service to quickly generate transgenic animal models.

Another important outcome is the IIMCB’s engagement in the education of researchers. Together with eight other research organisations specialised in biology, chemistry, medicine and physics, the IIMCB launched a dedicated PhD School. To date, the school has accepted 300 doctoral students from 25 countries.

Last but not least, the MOSaIC project has allowed the institute to introduce and promote effective science and HR management, with a particular stress on gender equality and diversity measures.

Redefining healthcare as we know it

The achievements of the MOSaIC project have formed the basis for the unprecedented development of the IIMCB – a transformation that continues today under a new EU-funded project. With this project, and under the leadership of director Marta Miączyńska, the institute aims to become the first-of-a-kind Polish scientific centre, combining excellence in research with professional commercialisation activities.

“Today, the IIMCB is a place where ambitious and motivated people – scientists, students, entrepreneurs – are invited to carry out the high-quality, game-changing research that could redefine healthcare as we know it,” concludes Kuźnicki.

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Project details

Project acronym
Project number
Project coordinator: Poland
Project participants:
Total cost
€ 2 498 887
EU Contribution
€ 2 498 887
Project duration

See also

More information about project MOSaIC

All success stories