Chemistry Student Dale Guenther Earns Top Research Fellowship Award

The Project

The Brian and Gayle Hill Undergraduate Research Fellowship Award is a scholarship presented to students in the College of Science who demonstrate outstanding performance in their programs. In 2008, Dale Guenther, a native of Post Falls, Idaho, in addition to one undergraduate chemistry student, received the award for her exceptional efforts.

Guenther has always been fascinated by chemistry, because it’s a field that revolves around perpetual learning. She chose the University of Idaho because she likes the small town feel and because of the University’s interdisciplinary programs where students also have access to sophisticated equipment.

“I also chose the University of Idaho because it is home to passionate faculty members with diverse backgrounds and who are committed to getting undergraduate students involved in the lab,” said Guenther. Guenther also believes that research fellowship awards are essential to the success of students.

"Fellowships are an excellent opportunity to gain experience in the lab as well as learning about the process of presenting your data and findings,” said Guenther. “Being involved in a lab has greatly improved my experience as an undergrad at the University of Idaho by not only introducing me to research, but allowing me to be immersed in research with my own project.”

The Goals

As a scholarship recipient, Guenther was awarded funding through this program for her research project in synthetic nucleic acid chemistry. She is working with her team to study the process of modifying nucleic acids for therapeutic and diagnostic applications. Specifically, she is looking at C5-functionalized LNA (locked nucleic acids). This is essentially a bridged sugar moiety that "locks" it into a specific conformation that improves binding to a complementary strand of DNA or RNA. Different moieties at the C5 position are being investigated to potentially improve cellular uptake of modified oligonucleotides for use in antisense therapeutics.

The Vision

In a nutshell, antisense therapy is a form of treatment for genetic disorders or infections. When the genetic sequence of a particular gene is known to cause a particular disease, scientists can work to synthesize a strand of nucleic acid that will bind to the messenger RNA. The aim is to essentially turn the gene “off.” Antisense drugs are being researched to treat different cancers such as lung cancer, colorectal cancer and other diseases, including diabetes, asthma and more. Through this project, Guenther has learned much, including becoming familiar with organic synthesis, nucleic acids and current topics within the subject.

In terms of what’s next for Guenther, her future is wide open. After graduation this spring, she plans to go to graduate school where she’ll continue her education and work toward her goal of getting into a career in pharmaceutical design

“My experiences at the University of Idaho have provided significant research opportunities that have gone on to solidify my desire to be involved in a laboratory setting,” said Guenther.

The People

Dale Guenther, a senior studying chemistry and Professor Hrdlicka.