Firefly Frontiers Winner | Ciria Hernandez

Ciria C. Hernandez, MD, PhD, is a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurology at Vanderbilt University. Dr. Hernandez will use her Firefly Frontiers grant to identify changes in expression levels of brain-specific miRNAs as novel elements that participate in the onset of epilepsy and as therapeutic targets. 

What fascinates you most about microRNAs?

Identification of differentially expressed miRNAs is critical to uncovering the biological functions of miRNAs that contribute to, or are associated with, human diseases. The application of therapeutic strategies based on modulation of miRNA activity hold great promise because of their ability to potently affect gene expression and gene regulation.

Where do you see the miRNA field headed in the next 5 years?  What areas are most promising for breakthrough discoveries?

Recent studies have highlighted the importance of miRNAs as versatile post-transcriptional regulators of neuronal network activity by acting as either regulatory switches or by tuning target protein levels in physiological conditions or in diseases such as epilepsy. Clearly, specific miRNAs have emerged as key regulators that could play a role in seizure activity, leading to epilepsy, and could serve as valuable targets for more efficient therapies.

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

The existing protocols used for purification of microRNAs do not offer simplicity and efficiency, and they are pricy.

What advantages does FirePlex® miRSelect bring to your research?

Profiling and detection of up to 70 miRNA in a short time using the innovative FirePlexTM miRSelect approach will facilitate translational studies of epilepsy mutations and might provide truly disease modifying therapies in an exciting area of unexplored territory in epilepsy research.