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Chasing RNA and its Secrets About Diseases

By Randolph Fillmore

To say that a scientist is carrying out “cutting edge research” may be a cliché. But for Xiangbo Ruan, Ph.D., newly arrived at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, and an assistant professor in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, “cutting edge” is a true and accurate assessment of his research. To unravel secrets of ribonucleic acid (RNA), present in all living cells, Ruan is using high-tech methods to “slice and dice” strands of RNA at the molecular level to better understand how RNA modifications affect human organs and potentially cause disease.

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Rural China as a “Biology Lab”

“Growing up in a rural area of China, I watched plants and animals around me and became very curious about how genetic information is passed on to offspring,” Ruan recalls.

That interest led to him studying biology in high school, and fortunately, he had an excellent and supportive science teacher who further sparked his interests in biology.

After high school, it was off to university to study life science. Ruan was able to initiate his first research project aiming to produce and screen for mutant bacteria that have enhanced glutamine production. In 2006, he received his B.S. in biotechnology.

With his interest in molecular biology expanding, he entered graduate school in Shanghai, China, where he completed his Ph.D. in biochemistry in 2012 at the prestigious Institute of Nutrition and Health of the Chinese Academy of Science.

“After getting my Ph.D., I had a dilemma,” says Ruan with a smile. “I didn’t know whether I should go into industry, or into academia.”

Unsure of his future path, he began “networking” and found Chinese colleagues in the United States who were working at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In 2012, he successfully landed a post-doctoral research position at NIH’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI)) outside of Washington, D.C. It was at NHLBI that his research interests in RNA became a priority, if not a passion.

Read more:  Read the full story by Randy Fillmore

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