Biotechnology student’s hard work turns to sweet success

Ashley Untereiner

Ashley Untereiner, left, has had great success working with her PhD supervisor Dr. Lily Wu.

A Biotechnology student credits her recent success to perseverance and the nurturing support given by her Lakehead PhD supervisors. 

Ashley Untereiner discovered new pathways for sugar metabolism in diabetes under the guidance of her supervisor Dr. Lily Wu and co-supervisor Dr. Rui Wang.

“By discovering other pathways involved in sugar metabolism, it paints a larger picture of what is involved in sugar production and gives us a better idea of how to control an abnormal glucose metabolism.  It leads us one step closer to controlling this deadly disease,” Ashley said.

Her studentship application was ranked nationally in the top 3.9 per cent of the recent CIHR Doctoral Award competition and earned her a Frederick Banting and Charles Best Canada Graduate Scholarship Award for $81,667.

Ashley’s discovery could result in safer glucose levels for people who have diabetes.

“Initially I wanted to get into cancer research, but I really wanted to work with Dr. Lily Wu at the University of Saskatchewan, who was doing research into sugar metabolism and diabetes,” Ashley said.

She received a Master’s Degree in Pharmacology at the University of Saskatchewan before coming with Dr. Wu to Lakehead.

“At the time I didn’t understand much about glucose metabolism and diabetes. When Dr. Wu came to Lakehead I came too because I knew working with her would be a great opportunity. A really great supervisor can make or break a project,” Ashley said.

Anyone can get type 2 diabetes, especially someone who isn’t active and doesn’t have a healthy diet.

“If things don’t change in society, diabetes will be an even bigger problem in the future,” Ashley said.

Dr. Wu and Dr. Rui Wang have played an important part in Ashley’s success by encouraging her to be “creative and daring” and to experiment with new ideas.

“Even if it seems simple, that’s how discoveries are made,” Ashley said.

“I made a good choice working with them. In our lab it’s like a family. There’s no need to be afraid that you will be judged or looked down upon when asking questions or if you make mistakes – having great supervisors encourages that type of positive environment,” she said.

Dr. Wu said Ashley has been a very good student who has worked hard.

“It has been a true pleasure having Ashley on my research team. She's gifted and thinks independently to skillfully solve her own research problems. She is a great team player whom every research laboratory would love to have,” Dr. Wu said.

“Ashley had several options to pursue her PhD study based on her outstanding training record to date. Her choice to study with my team at Lakehead is a testimony of the excellence of research activity here and the exceptional and unconventional research environment at Lakehead University,” Dr. Wu said.

Ashley believes that life’s challenges have made her a stronger, smarter person, and that persistence will almost always pay off.

“It’s funny how life takes you in so many directions. If you experience something terrible or hard, it’s meant to prepare you for what comes next and it’s something you need to go through.

“Not everything falls into place – you really have to work at it. But, if you have that extreme determination and stubborn persistence, you can accomplish your goals,” Ashley said.