The Director’s Cut: Heidi Dvinge Looks at RNA Splicing With a Film Critic’s Eye

Photo of Heidi Dvinge

After filming a movie, scenes are cut and rearranged to tell the director’s story. A similar editorial process occurs in our cells in a process called RNA splicing. Before the DNA code is translated into a protein, it must first be converted into RNA, its single-stranded mirror image. The resulting strand of RNA is spliced to generate an edited strand that is used to code for new proteins.

RNA splicing allows cells that contain the same genetic information to code for different proteins and to complete different functions.

“You can imagine, depending on what scenes you use or add into a movie, you get a slightly different meaning out of it. Splicing is a way for one gene in our cell to have these slightly different meanings,” Heidi Dvinge, assistant professor in the Department of Biomolecular Chemistry and IPiB faculty member, said. Dvinge joined the UW Carbone Cancer Center in 2017 and studies the mechanisms and consequences of RNA splicing and how errors in splicing can give rise to cancers.

Splicing is a normal function in healthy cells. However, sometimes splicing can go wrong, and portions of the RNA are rearranged or removed in a way that will negatively affect protein structure and function. Researchers have only recently found that these rogue edits can be involved with cancer and other diseases.

“In some cases, if you take out a scene, suddenly the whole movie doesn’t make sense. Imagine Titanic where the ship never hits the iceberg. Then for the rest of the movie, all these people running around jumping into the water and it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever,” Dvinge said. “That’s what happens when things go wrong with splicing. In the last 5-6 years, people have really started to realize how changes in splicing can act as a disease driver.”

To read more about Heidi’s research, go to the link to a story by the Carbone Cancer Center below.