Four-year, $720,000 grant will help fund research to investigate microRNA’s function in the initiation of skin cancer

Rui Yi lab

Dr. Rui Yi’s lab staff at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Rui Yi, PhD, assistant professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology at the University of Colorado Boulder and University of Colorado Cancer Center investigator has been awarded a four-year, $720,000 Research Scholar Grant from the American Cancer Society (ACS).

His project, “Investigate cellular context-specific function of microRNAs in the skin,” will examine how microRNA functions differently in various stem cell compartments of the skin and identify the important targets of this microRNA during normal development. He will also look at the role of microRNA during the initiation of skin cancer so he can identify tumor-specific targets and possibly provide molecular basis for developing skin cancer treatments.

“Because microRNAs regulate many biological processes, one of our challenges is how to study single microRNA’s so we can understand the way they function,” Yi says. “There’s a lot of evidence indicating that we don’t know a lot about how a single microRNA functions in different cellular environment, for example the same microRNA could have different functions in normal stem cells vs cancer initiating cells. Once we figure that out, we hope to harness the great potential of microRNA as drug target and biomarker to help diagnosis and treat cancer.”

Jerome Lee, a postdoctoral researcher in Yi’s lab, was also awarded a three-year, $150,000 ACS Postdoctoral Fellowship. Lee’s project, “Elucidating microRNA-dependent and independent function of Xpo5 in skin cancer,” will focus on Xpo5, an important RNA-binding protein, and how it functions in both normal skin development and skin cancer. The project will be co-advised by Yi and Xiao-Jing Wang, MD, PhD, director of the head, neck and skin cancer research program at CU Cancer Center.

The ACS Research Scholar Grants are awarded to independent, self-directed researchers within six years of their first academic appointment. Postdoctoral Fellowships are awarded to beginning investigators just starting their independent careers in cancer research.