The Warren Alpert Foundation

Improving the Health of the Public


Marisa Quinn


Report provides roadmaps for full sequencing of the human RNome, which could have a major impact on human disease and other critical areas of science.

PROVIDENCE, R.I.: The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) have released the report of its ad hoc Consensus Study Committee to study the direct sequencing of all human RNA and its modifications.

The report, released Thursday, March 21, and titled “Charting a Future for Sequencing RNA and its Modifications: A New Era for Biology and Medicine,” offers roadmaps for technology, workforce, and database development, and calls for a substantial investment of time and resources, on a national and international scale.

The committee’s work was funded predominantly by Providence, R.I.-based philanthropy The Warren Alpert Foundation as well as the National Institutes of Health.

“Much like our founder, Warren Alpert, the foundation has always believed in taking big swings that could result in big rewards,” said August R. Schiesser, president and executive director of The Warren Alpert Foundation. “We saw the RNA sequencing project as an opportunity to have a massive impact on medicine, on science, and ultimately, humanity.”

“That is the mission of the foundation,” added David M. Hirsch, chairman of The Warren Alpert Foundation’s board of directors. “Through our grants and our support of cutting-edge medical research and The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, we are focused on achieving the broadest impact on the world.”

About RNA

Ribonucleic acid, which is present in all living cells, translates the genetic information stored in DNA into various biological processes. More than a dozen kinds of RNA are found in humans.  Some, like messenger RNA (mRNA), are critical in the making of proteins, but the functions of many others remain unknown. Scientists’ understanding is further complicated by RNA modifications—tiny tweaks to RNA molecules that play pivotal roles in our cells and substantially impact human health and disease. The discovery of a modification to an mRNA molecule was critical in the development of the COVID-19 vaccines that saved millions of lives worldwide. RNA modifications play roles in numerous disease processes, including neurological disorders, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, and in the development of vaccines for HIV, influenza, and several cancers, as well as other therapeutics.

Yet, the technology to accurately sequence single molecules of RNA, and identify the locations of the modifications on each molecule, does not exist. This shortfall poses a significant obstacle in harnessing the full potential of RNA modifications to address pressing societal challenges in human health, food production, biosecurity, and more.

“The past several decades have included a remarkable trend toward precision medicine, driven by groundbreaking efforts such as the sequencing and mapping of the human genome, but we now know that our genetic code alone doesn’t tell the whole story,” said Victor J. Dzau, president of the National Academy of Medicine. “Understanding RNA modifications and harnessing this knowledge holds immense potential — not only for human health and medicine but also for shaping all living systems and the products and technologies stemming from them.”

Consensus Study Group

To address the known, and unknown, potential of RNA sequencing, NASEM formed the Consensus Study Committee in 2023, bringing together 16 biologists and biochemists with extensive expertise in the study of RNA. The committee’s charge was to assess the scientific and technological breakthroughs, workforce, and infrastructure needed to sequence, and ultimately understand the roles RNA modifications play in biological processes and disease. An NIH-sponsored workshop in 2022, which explored the existing technology capabilities and future needs to sequence all RNA and its modifications, sometimes called the RNome, informed the NASEM committee’s work.

“As one of the organizers of the preceding NIH workshop in 2022, I see the NASEM report as an opportunity to trumpet the importance of understanding the RNome for human health care, biotechnology, biopharmaceuticals, agriculture, and biomanufacturing,” said Peter Dedon, MD, PhD, a professor of biological engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“A quantitative understanding of the complete set of all RNAs and the modifications decorating each RNA is a far more daunting task than sequencing the human genome,” Dedon added. “And it will have a much broader and deeper impact on academic research, industry, public health, and government policy. From my perspective, the most important effect of the NASEM report will be to direct research funding to advance RNome research in academia, which will translate to commercial and public health impact very quickly.”

In supporting the NASEM committee’s work, The Warren Alpert Foundation also saw an opportunity to advance a burgeoning RNA research enclave in its home state.

Juan D. Alfonzo, PhD, a member of the Consensus Study Committee and the Mencoff Family Executive Director of the RNA Center in the Division of Biology and Medicine at  Brown University, said the Foundation’s support for the committee “was not only foundational in making it happen—it offers further evidence of the exciting developments in RNA science taking place in Rhode Island.”

“It was the commitment by The Warren Alpert Foundation, Brown University, and the state of Rhode Island that convinced me to move here last year with the task of forming and leading the new Brown RNA Center [BRC],” added Alfonzo, professor of molecular biology, cell biology, and biochemistry at Brown University. “Launched in fall 2023, we’re now recruiting top RNA scientists to the BRC and see great potential for Rhode Island to be a hub for RNA technology. Undoubtedly, our new center aligns perfectly with the interests of NASEM and The Warren Alpert Foundation; it all sets Rhode Island on a clear path to lead any national RNA effort—particularly one focused on RNA modifications and how these relate to health and disease.”

In the coming weeks and months, the NASEM Consensus Study Committee will meet with key stakeholders including health committees of the US House and Senate and government health and science agencies. Like the Human Genome Project, an undertaking of this scale will not be possible without public-private partnerships and global collaboration.

“This report is just the first leg of the journey,” Schiesser, of the Warren Alpert Foundation, said. “We hope that the U.S. government and our partners around the world will sign on to this effort as well.”


The focus of The Warren Alpert Foundation is to improve the health of the public through grants and programmatic activities progressing toward attaining or perfecting medical treatments or cures through basic research, translational and outcomes research as well as through health education. Warren Alpert (1920-2007), a successful philanthropist and entrepreneur, established the Foundation in 1986.

The focus of The Warren Alpert Foundation is to improve the health of the public through grants and programmatic activities progressing towards attaining or perfecting medical treatments or cures through basic research, translational and outcomes research as well as through health education.

Find out more

Congratulations to the 2024 Warren Alpert Distinguished Scholars

WADS 2024
Eric M. Mulhall, PhD
The Scripps Research Institute
WADS 2024
Gerard J. Broussard, PhD
Princeton University
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Jonathan Green, PhD
Harvard Medical School
WADS 2024
Yu Guo, PhD
University of Wisconsin - Madison
WADS 2024
Marianna Zazhytska, PhD
Columbia University in New York City
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Paulina D. Ramirez Garcia, PhD
New York University

Medical Education and Research Grants

From time to time The Warren Alpert Foundation will elicit proposals in specific research and education areas.

The Warren Alpert School of Medicine
 at Brown University

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