Andrew Hoss is a graduate student in the Genetics and Genomics department at the Boston University Medical Center working with Dr. Richard H. Myers. Mr. Hoss will use his Firefly Frontiers Grant to study the regulatory effects of microRNAs on both the age of onset and neuronal degradation patterns in Huntington's Disease with the goal of deciphering critical pathways.

1. What fascinates you most about microRNAs?

Each miRNA has the potential to target several genes in a pathway or multiple pathways, and consequently, its expression may have a large impact on disease pathogenesis.

2. Where do you see the miRNA field headed in the next 5 years?

What areas are most promising for breakthrough discoveries? As the cost of next-generation sequencing (NGS) dramatically decreases, many genome-wide studies to study miRNA expression will be completed, and from these, disease-specific miRNA, as well as novel RNA regulatory and non-canonical mechanisms may be discovered. I’m personally interested to see where the field goes in the context of terminally differentiated cells types (like cardiac myocytes and neurons) and how these findings will relate to age-related diseases.

3. What is your biggest pain point when it comes to microRNA research?

Identifying validated targets of miRNAs of interest has been challenging due to the lack of consensus across target prediction databases, the abundance of possible binding sites (3’ UTR, 5’ UTR, exonic regions) and paucity of validated or curated miRNA targets. Also, it is particularly difficult to interpret the relationship of miRNA to its targets. For example, we would expect reduced expression for targets of an up-regulated miRNA; often we observe miRNA target expression is unchanged or in fact increased.

4. What advantages does FirePlex® miRSelect bring to your research?

We regularly use quantitative PCR to validate NGS findings. A custom, plate-based assay that is multiplexed, quick, affordable, and can be performed in numerous tissue types (including tissue homogenate) is very appealing for our miRNA studies.