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Idaho Researchers Win Grant To Explore DNA Frontier

Three University of Idaho researchers will embark on an unconventional approach to DNA research as one of 20 teams chosen nationwide by federal officials for the ideas to explore scientific frontiers.

Chemist Patrick Hrdlicka and molecular physiologist Madhu Papasani, who are both 32, were the youngest researchers chosen among several hundred applicants. They will be joined on the University of Idaho team by a senior scientist, growth biology Prof. Rod Hill.

The award is the first awarded to researchers in Idaho through the Exceptional, Unconventional Research Enabling Knowledge Acceleration or EUREKA program sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.

The $523,000 R-01 program grant over three years reflects the team’s approach as one that is exceptionally innovative and based on a novel approach that could have an extremely high impact on biomedical research conducted by the National Institutes of Health.

The Idaho team will explore new approaches to gene therapies by using locked nucleic acids or LNAs as invaders to target specific sections of chromosomes. The team will use zebrafish embryos in the study.

Their study will focus on ways to improve the targeting of the invader LNAs through chemical engineering and to show how they can affect the genes.

“We are very excited about having the support to explore this approach,” Papasani said. “We are proud to be recognized as one of the teams that proposed an idea considered both exceptional and unconventional.”

The researchers hope their work could help medical researchers speed the development of new drugs or lead to gene therapies that would be new approaches to treatment of diseases.

"We want to develop a chemical probe technology that binds more strongly to specific genetic sequences and can target many more sequences that is currently possible," Hrdlicka said. "If successful, this technology has the potential to treat diseases of genetic origin."

About the University of Idaho
Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s flagship higher-education institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year; the University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation ranking for high research activity. The university’s student population includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars. Offering more than 130 degree options in 10 colleges, the university combines the strengths of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. For information, visit

Bill Loftus | Newswise Science News
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