Firefly Frontiers Winner: Charles Vanderburg, PhD

Charles R. Vanderburg, PhD (Chuck) is Director of the Advanced Tissue Resource Center at the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease.

Dr. Vanderburg has published on a wide range of neurological disorders including Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, autism, and bipolar disorder. His current research focus is on the microgenomic and microproteomic profiling of human neuropathological tissue specimens and their derivatives, including microRNAs and exosomes. With a focus on developing artifact-control methodologies for such specimens, his lab is actively investigating novel bioinformatic strategies and technologies.

Dr. Vanderburg's Firefly Frontiers Grant project will focus on the profiling of microRNAs as biomarkers of neurodegenerative disorders.

What fascinates you most about microRNAs?

The conceptual framework in which miRNAs act to regulate translation at a distance via extracellular shuttle vesicles is particularly open to exploration. Evidence that the transfer of miRNA-based molecular signals occurs even across kingdoms (from rice to humans, for example) allows us to imagine astounding possibilities.

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

Delineation of the miRnome and its associated signaling pathways will be as well-developed as are the transcriptome, proteome and genome currently.

What areas are most promising for breakthrough discoveries?

Biomarkers (because miRNA signals are robust and can be amplified to enable detection) and therapeutics (because entire protein expression cassettes can be modulated with one moiety and the modulation can be titrated and targeted).

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

Accurate differentiation between minor base differences and sensitivity of detection without the need for amplification.

What advantages does FirePlex® miRSelect bring to your research?

FirePlex® will allow me to accurately and sensitively detect my miRNA biomarker profiles directly from microliter volumes of scarce human biofluid samples.