Image: A rendering of the gene silencing process with siRNA (Borman, 2013). Retrieved from:

Researching the therapeutic potentials of siRNA through computational chemistry methods, Bhadra Pandya is spending his summer vacation thinking like a scientist. Working with Dr. Stacey Wetmore in her Computational Chemistry Lab, Bhadra is studying how modifications to the building blocks of siRNA—nucleotides—can improve the therapeutic potential of the molecule.

siRNA stands for small interfering ribonucleic acid, which is a class of double-stranded RNA molecules. RNA is a critical nucleic acid that assists in the creation of proteins necessary for an organism’s survival. siRNA works to prevent the production of specific proteins based on information from the messenger RNA, which is a single-strand RNA that carries the genetic code from the DNA molecule. When the double-stranded siRNA molecule is present in mammals, their body may mistake it as a by-product of a virus and initiate an immune response against it. However, Theresa Phillips from ThoughtCo. notes that this response means there is a potential for therapeutic uses, as the molecule can inhibit gene expression which can potentially treat many diseases.

This is the crux of Bhadra’s research, as he is using computational chemistry methods to understand how certain modifications to siRNA impact the overall structure of it.

This work will increase our understanding of siRNA modifications which will pave the way for the development of novel siRNA therapeutics in the future! I am specifically responsible for performing calculations, analyzing data, and communicating progress regularly with my co-workers and supervisor.

Bhadra is in his third year of a Neuroscience degree, and says he was attracted to computational chemistry research due to its ability to systematically dissect the complexities of the physical world in a manner that is unmatched by traditional research methods.

“The large number of available tools and techniques that computational chemists have at their disposal allows for a great deal of flexibility when studying biomolecular systems. In addition, the findings from the project that I am working on may contribute to the development of novel siRNA-based therapeutics in the future, which makes me very excited to see how this project will unfold over the course of the summer.”

With the support of an NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Award, Bhadra says his research experience has broadened his ability to think about complex questions—like a scientist would.

I’ve learned to effectively communicate my research with others (e.g., attending research conferences and presenting posters) and have formed lasting friendships with my fellow lab mates. Doing undergraduate research was, by far, the best decision I have made in my undergraduate career!

Bhadra believes the U of L is one of the best schools in Canada for undergraduate research, adding that the university’s close-knit research community makes it possible to form lasting relationships with other students and faculty.