Significant scientific progress continues to be made in the fields of genomics and transcriptomics. Understandings regarding gene expression regulation are also increasing rapidly, and are now being applied for medical diagnostic benefit. Very short sequences of ribonucleic acids have been discovered recently. They are called micro-ribonucleic acids (miRNAs), and are showing huge promise as clinical biomarkers, diagnostic tools for illness and disease, and as potential drugs in their own right. Changes of expression of miRNAs occur in an organ’s cell in response to disease and illnesses. It is now believed that detection of infections, cancer and drug toxicities could be improved by testing for sets of miRNAs. New miRNA based assays offer the prospect of a using these new and novel biomarkers to improve analysis, diagnosis and decision making for clinicians, when facing treatment options for sick patients.

However, development of miRNA detection applied to clinical practice and decision making has been blocked to date by the costly and complex sample preparations and target miRNA amplifications required to detect miRNAs extracted from human tissue. Laboratory to laboratory standardization also remains challenging, with too much variation to date. Direct detection from blood via liquid biopsies would be an ideal, less invasive test method, but detection methods until now are not yet sufficiently sensitive or reliable.

Into this context, and the ongoing significant challenge to develop and deliver a cost effective, highly sensitive but reliable test method for miRNAs have come two innovative EU companies, Optoi Microelectronics - with micro-electronic know-how and manufacturing skills - and DestiNA Genomica – with its ‘error free’ chemical technology for microRNAs recognition.

To complement and accelerate the development towards a robust clinical assay platform, the companies have joined forces with three key academic research groups from the Universities of Trento (UNITN -Italy) , Granada (UGR -Spain) and Santa Catarina (UFSC -Brazil). All the parties have agreed to combine their knowledge and technologies with respect to miRNA biomarkers, with a particular focus on developing a novel, reliable miRNA detection system for lung cancer. The strong network created between the companies and the academic institutions will provide a unique scientific and technological environment to translate research outputs into an innovative products for healthcare advance.

After the end of the first year of the project, the consortium has undergone the inclusion of two new partners in order to complement the expertise: Medizinischen Hochschule Hannover (MHM - Germany) and GeneXplain (GNX - Germany) have formally joined the project.

The miRNA-DisEASY consortium, supported by grant under its Horizon 2020 programme (MSCA-RISE), will provide a vehicle to enhance the sharing, education and training of talented researchers in this biomarker field of the future, and to enable the development of ‘first in class’ assays with worldwide medical and commercial appeal.


"This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 690866” “The research at UFSC is being supported by the Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq)”

Research and Innovation Staff Exchange (RISE) provides funding for joint research and innovation projects implemented through exchange of staff and networking based on international and inter-sector collaborations. RISE involves organisations from the academic and non-academic sectors (in particular SMEs), based in Europe (EU Member States and Associated Countries) and outside Europe (third countries). Staff exchange between universities and non-academic institutions can be a powerful catalyst for innovation. The scheme fosters a shared culture of research and innovation that welcomes and rewards creativity and entrepreneurship and helps to turn creative ideas into innovative products, services or processes. For more information click here.

The project social media have now been activated: follow me on facebook follow me on twitter


(last updated in December 2019)

  • the parties gathered for the meeting of project closure, in Trento in mid November


Reference File
Press release promoting the project (in Italian; HTML page in English here), Feb. 2017 click here


Reference File
Unitn Cibio brochure RNA Biology and Biotechnology
International Innovation issue 119, 2013 The importance of RNA
Pan European Networks Science and Technology issue 10 March 2014 Focus on RNA
Clinical Chemistry 2015 Validation of New Cancer Biomarkers: A Position Statement from the European Group on Tumor Markers
International Symposium on Precision medicine based on liquid biopsies from detection to dissection (Granada, Sept 2016) ELISA-type platform for direct detection of native circulating miRNA biomarkers
Molecular Neurobiology 2016 pp 1-14 The miR-15/107 Family of microRNA Genes Regulates CDK5R1/p35 with Implications for Alzheimer’s Disease Pathogenesis
Front. Mol. Neurosci., 3rd May 2016 Reduced miR-659-3p Levels Correlate with Progranulin Increase in Hypoxic Conditions: Implications for Frontotemporal Dementia
Springer 2015 EXS. 106:151-69 Circulating microRNAs in neurodegenerative diseases" in "Circulating microRNAs in disease diagnostics and their potential biological relevance
2015 BMC Bioinformatics. 16(1):287 Statistical analysis of a Bayesian classifier based on the expression of miRNAs
Horizon Magazine Nov 2016 Light-controlled nanomaterials could hunt out and destroy cancer cells
Nature Scientific Reports Jan 2016 Selection of reference genes is critical for miRNA expression analysis in human cardiac tissue. A focus on atrial fibrillation
Article published in September 2017, on Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology, section Molecular and Cellular Oncology microRNAs make the call in cancer personalized medicine
Article submitted for Elsevier journal, accepted in October 2017 Circulating miRNAs in nontumoral liver diseases
Article submitted for Pharmacological Research in 2018 MicroRNA profiles in serum samples from patients with stable cirrhosis and miRNA-21 as a predictor of transplant-free survival
Article published on Nature Leukemia in 2012 Impact of serum storage conditions on microRNA stability
Article published on Plos One in 2013 Differential Stability of Cell-Free Circulating microRNAs: Implications for Their Utilization as Biomarkers
Article published on Elsevier in March 2019 PCR-free and chemistry-based technology for miR-21 rapid detection directly from tumour cells
Book chapter part of the Springer Series on Fluorescence book series Time-Gated Luminescence Acquisition for Biochemical Sensing: miRNA Detection
Article published on Analytical Chemistry, in April 2019 New Platform for the Direct Profiling of microRNAs in Biofluids


Entity Reference person
Optoi Cristina Ress
/attachment/get/up_263_14932852777793.jpg Dr Cristina Ress is the coordinator of the miRNA-DisEASY project and leads the Biomedical team in Optoi Microelectronics. The multidisciplinary team develops optical, physical and electrochemical sensors for several biomedical applications. The main activities are focused on novel diagnostic devices to deliver new technologies in the biotech and medical sectors.
Destina Hugh Ilyine
/attachment/get/up_263_1458834565.jpg DestiNA's CEO Mr Hugh Ilyine has founded biotechnology companies in regenerative medicine, bio-similar therapeutics and molecular diagnostics. He brings considerable experience in working with academic researchers as well as developing and commercialising biotechnology and know-how. From managing a successful IPO on the London AIM market, the formation of a Japanese joint venture stem cell company, to managing companies in Indonesia and Australia for the Rhone-Poulenc group, Hugh brings extensive global experience in out-licensing IP and Trademarks in Europe, the US and Japan.
Unitn Michela Denti
/attachment/get/up_263_1458834246.jpg Prof. Michela Denti leads the RNA Biology and Biotechnology Laboratory of CIBIO at the University of Trento. The group has a strong focus on the functional analysis of the miRNAs in several diseases searching for their target genes and investigating their role in pathogenesis. Lung cancer is one of the main target diseases of the group's researches.
UGR Angel Orte
/attachment/get/up_263_1458834557.jpg Dr Angel Orte leads a research group within the Department of Physical Chemistry (Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Granada). The main focus of the group lies in research, development and application of new fluorescence-based biophysical methods to important problems in chemistry, biology and biomedicine, ranging from studies on single biomolecules to living cells.
UFSC Tania Creczynsky-Pasa
/attachment/get/up_263_1458834245.jpg Prof. Tania Creczynski-Pasa leads the GEIMM group, in the Department of Pharmaceutical Science at the Federal University of Santa Catarina. The activity of the group has been focusing on new compounds for cancer therapy. Lately the group is interested in RNA, following two principal directions. One is the development of nanocarries for short interfering RNA (siRNA), principally aimed at cancer therapy. The second direction concerns the study of miRNAs as biomarkers for diagnosis for several human diseases, principally cancer.
MHH Jürgen Borlak
/attachment/get/up_263_14852498315563.jpg Prof. Dr. Jürgen Borlak is the Director of the Institute of Pharmaco- and Toxicogenomics at Hannover Medical School. This new field of genomic science applies a wide range of methods in genetics, molecular biology, molecular toxicology and functional genomics for a better understanding of disease causing mechanisms and drug induced toxicities. An array of enabling technologies are applied for an identification of “drugable” targets and for a better understanding of inter-individual differences in drug response, therefore allowing individualized drug treatment regimens and disease prevention strategies.
GNX Alexander Kel
/attachment/get/up_263_14852509153725.jpg Dr Alexander Kel is the major driving force behind geneXplain’s science and technology. During his career, he has worked in almost all branches of current bioinformatics including: theoretical models of molecular genetic information systems, sequence analysis, gene recognition, promoter analysis and prediction, analysis of protein secondary structure, prediction of RNA secondary structure, theory of mutation and recombination process, molecular evolution, databases and gene expression studies.