FIREFLY FRONTIERS WINNER: Kevin Elias

Kevin Elias, MD, is a Clinical Fellow in Gynecologic Oncology and Critical Care Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. Elias will use his Firefly Frontiers grant to identify changes in miRNA expression induced by the surgical stress of exploratory laparotomy in ovarian cancer patients and to predict miRNA targets to improve outcomes for ovarian cancer therapy.

1. What fascinates you most about microRNAs?

The deceptive simplicity of microRNA makes it so intriguing. The idea that short snippets of RNA can regulate the behavior of genes that may be thousands of kilobases in length is mind boggling. It challenges our notion that biologic systems should be increasingly complex.

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

I see the miRNA field segmenting into several areas. First, miRNA will be the leading focus of biomarker research. There will be a great effort to link different pathologies with specific miRNA signatures. The dynamic nature of miRNA and huge potential sequence variety will create a market for miRNA detection products associated with diagnosing, predicting, and following the course of specific diseases. Second, there is great interest in understanding how to target a miRNA towards a specific mRNA. This will create a novel laboratory technique for understanding cell signaling, but also opens the possibility of a new direction in biotherapeutics. Targeting post-transcriptional gene regulation could be a real clinical option and without the potential drawbacks of true gene therapy.

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

Efficiency is currently the biggest problem. The multiple steps of sample preparation, RNA extraction, reverse transcription, cDNA amplification, and then data analysis greatly extend the lag time from idea to discovery. There are too many potential points of failure that can scrap a whole set of experiments.

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

Not only does FirePlex® miRSelect save time and money, the simpler technique makes results more consistent across experiments. I don't have to worry as much about the sample prep each time, and I have more of a given sample to use from experiment to experiment to test different hypotheses.