ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — SUNY Polytechnic Institute (SUNY Poly) and the University at Albany (UAlbany) announced Monday that their collaborating research teams have been awarded over $450,000 from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The grant money will be used to help researchers investigate how a selenium deficiency can chemically modify RNA, which may promote aging and cancer.

This research, led by Interim Dean of SUNY Poly’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CSNE) André Melendez and Thomas Begley, Associate Director of the RNA Institute in UAlbany’s College of Arts and Sciences, will use cutting-edge tools available for biomedical and life science-focused research at both institutions. At the same time, undergraduate and graduate students attending SUNY Poly CNSE as well as UAlbany will be able to gain firsthand lab experience and training opportunities in RNA science and technology throughout the grant’s three-year research term.

“I am proud to congratulate both Interim Dean Melendez and Professor Begley and their research teams for receiving this grant which will help us better understand the role of selenium and RNA in biological processes, potentially leading to more targeted approaches to slow aging and limit cancer,” said SUNY Poly Acting President Dr. Tod A. Laursen. “This is a prime example of how our faculty members often address important, ‘real-world’ challenges through meaningful research partnerships.”

“This important NIH grant is a perfect example of how SUNY can solve complex research questions not only across disciplines—but also across campuses,” said University at Albany President Havidán Rodríguez. “This research partnership between SUNY Poly and UAlbany scientists leverages the best of our facilities and expertise to support high-impact research that addresses the critical areas of aging and cancer.”

Selenium is a chemopreventive compound, meaning it can lower the risk of cancer developing or returning. Selenium is housed in the amino acid, selenocysteine, which is attached to specific transfer RNA (tRNA). tRNA is a molecule that, within cells, translates information from messenger RNA (mRNA) to produce the amino acid chains that comprise proteins.

These include several selenium-containing proteins that protect from free radical damage associated with aging and tumor growth. Selenocysteine-charged tRNA delivered into the 21st amino acid in the protein chain plays a critical role in ensuring the functionality of these proteins.

These research teams have identified that defects in selenocysteine use promote cellular aging and will test if reversing this defect serves to protect cells and tissues from damage that derives tumor growth.

“I am excited to work with the students from both institutions to provide training in RNA technology and molecular-based research to better understand cancer and aging,” said Professor Begley, who teaches at UAlbany’s Department of Biological Sciences. “Both Dr. Melendez and I are thankful for all the hard work from past students and members of The RNA Institute and the commitment of our research organizations to get to this point. We look forward to sharing our new findings in the future.”