Non-coding RNAs: the cancer genome dark matter that matters!

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Protein-coding genes comprise only 3% of the human genome, while the genes that are transcribed into RNAs but do not code for proteins occupy majority of the genome. Once considered as biological darker matter, non-coding RNAs are now being recognized as critical regulators in cancer genome. Among the many types of non-coding RNAs, microRNAs approximately 20 nucleotides in length are best characterized and their mechanisms of action are well generalized. microRNA exerts oncogenic or tumor suppressor function by regulation of protein-coding genes via sequence complementarity. The expression of microRNA is aberrantly regulated in all cancer types, and both academia and biotech companies have been keenly pursuing the potential of microRNA as cancer biomarker for early detection, prognosis, and therapeutic response. The key involvement of microRNAs in cancer also prompted interest on exploration of therapeutic values of microRNAs as anticancer drugs and drug targets. MRX34, a liposome-formulated miRNA-34 mimic, developed by Mirna Therapeutics, becomes the first microRNA therapeutic entering clinical trial for the treatment of hepatocellular carcinoma, renal cell carcinoma, and melanoma. In this review, we presented a general overview of microRNAs in cancer biology, the potential of microRNAs as cancer biomarkers and therapeutic targets, and associated challenges.

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