The consumption of alcohol is prevalent in the United States. In a recent survey, 87.6 percent of people aged 18 or older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime; 71 percent reported that they drank in the past year; 56.3 percent reported that they drank in the past month. In view of these statistics, understanding the effects of alcohol on the human body is of relevance to a large fraction of the US population.
When people drink alcohol, it distributes along with water in the body, reaching everywhere in the body. Drinking too much alcohol results in multiple health effects, including alterations in brain function, damage to the liver, heart, immune system, and pancreas, as well as an increased risk of certain types of cancer. Also, drinking alcohol during pregnancy can result in fetal alcohol effects. In contrast to these detrimental health effects of alcohol abuse, there is also evidence that moderate alcohol drinking may have some health benefits, particularly on the cardiovascular and immune systems. Thus, the effects of alcohol on the human body are complex and diverse.
For the most part, studies of the effects of alcohol have focused on one tissue or target at a time. However, it is likely that in addition to effects on specific organs and cell types, alcohol also affects communication between different organs, and relatively little work has been done on this topic. The NIH Common Fund program on Extracellular RNA Communication reflects the fact that the role of extracellular RNA in mediating communication between different cell types is one of the most exciting areas of biology today. In view of this program, as well as the importance of a full understanding of the effects of alcohol on the human body, we wrote program announcement PA-13-197 to stimulate the alcohol research community to investigate the role of extracellular RNA in mediating the health effects of alcohol. We have been pleased with the response to this RFA to date, and look forward to receiving additional applications.