Baylor College of Medicine will serve as the official data coordination center for a new National Institutes of Health initiative project on extracellular RNA communication and its role in human disease.

"Cells in different parts of the human body communicate over long distances through the nervous and endocrine systems," said Dr. Aleksandar Milosavljevic, professor of molecular and human genetics at BCM who will lead the BCM portion of the study. "There is accumulating evidence about yet another such system of long-range inter-cellular communication involving extracellular RNA (exRNA) molecules."

Plant- and microbe-derived exRNAs have also been identified in human serum, suggesting trans-kingdom RNA communication, said Milosavljevic.

Construction of an exRNA Atlas

The new initiative will examine this newly discovered system of communication and its role in human diseases. The project will focus on the construction of an exRNA Atlas, a chart of extracellular RNA communication in the human body.

BCM will host the Data Coordination Center for the Initiative. "The center will be the informatics nexus of the project, integrating data flows and deploying key informatics infrastructure for the project," said Milosavljevic. "The project will develop informatics methods and systems for integrating data, computer-readable knowledge and human readable text using the Linked Data technologies of the Semantic Web."

Key participants

Milosavljevic along with Dr. David Galas of the Pacific Northwest Diabetes Research Institute in Seattle and Dr. Mark Gerstein of Yale University will be principal investigators of the exRNA Data Management and Resource Repository project.

Additionally, other key participants include Dr. Andrew Su of Scripps Institute in La Jolla, Calif.; Dr. Alexander Pico of Gladstone Institute at the University of California in San Francisco; Dr. Suresh Mathivanan of the La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia; Dr. Kai Wang of Pacific Northwest Diabetes Research Institute; Drs. R. Alan Harris and Matthew E. Roth of BCM; Mr. Andrew R. Jackson of BCM; and Drs. Philip W. Askenase and Kei-Hoi Cheung of Yale.