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Hrachya Ishkhanyan

King's College London
Department of Physics
Huys Scholar 2019

Headshot of Huys Scholar Hrachya Ishkhanyan

I am a Ph.D. student at the Department of Physics, King’s College London. I have been able to pay my tuition fees with support from my parents, a small scholarship from AGBU and Huys Foundation, and my income from working part-time simultaneously at the university.  My goal is establishing a lab in Armenia, focusing on cancer research and treatment after my Ph.D. research. It will educate and attract students and young scientists to this crucial field who will have freedom to bring their own ideas to life and contribute greatly to the development of science in Armenia. The existence of such a laboratory will reduce human capital flight from Armenia, and make it a globally acknowledged cancer research center alongside with Cancer research UK, German Cancer research center etc.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death. It has a vast amount of different types, and there is no affordable and single cure for it. According to statistics from the World Health Organization in 2018 around 6400 people died from cancer in Armenia and 9.6 million worldwide, mostly from lung and breast cancer. A significant cause of this is the late diagnosis and lack of technologies and professionals in this field in low and mid-income countries.

Since 2011, I have had a great interest in cancer, in its both physical and biological origin, its available treatment methods, and their limitations. I wanted myself to develop a drug with as fewer disadvantages as possible, which can be capable of curing not a specific type of cancer, but all of them. I have started to study Physics at Yerevan State University in 2012, and from 2015 I have been involved in research on a relatively new cancer treatment method. Promoter regions of our oncogenes, telomeres, centromeres have guanine-rich sequences (with their complementary cytosine-rich sequences), and the idea of this treatment is to lock this sequences into non-canonical conformations known as G- quadruplex (I-motif for C-rich sequences). By doing this in promoter regions, we can suppress gene expression in cancer cells; or by doing this in telomeres, we can stop telomerase from elongating the telomeres. In both cases, this brings to cell’s death. I have been investigating environments with various parameters (such as different concentrations of salts, pH values, etc.) in which this DNA-to-G-quadruplex or DNA-to-I-motif transitions are possible. While working in this promising field, my main goal became contributing to cancer research and treatment in Armenia after my Ph.D. research.

But the investigation mentioned above is just one side of the problem. After the invention of such drug its delivery to the targeted cells can also be tricky. With the support of AGBU and Huys Foundation, I am now conducting my Ph.D. at Department of Physics, King’s College London. I am working in the group of Dr. Chris Lorenz, which is specializing in Molecular Dynamics simulations of various systems. Since the beginning of my studies, we are working on a project, in cooperation with Prof. Jayne Lawrence’s group from University of Manchester, where we investigate properties of certain nano-materials and their capabilities as drug carriers experimentally as well as in MD simulations. The research will help to develop better drugs with better efficacy. After publishing the paper on this research, we, together with Dr. Natasha Rhys from my group, are planning a cooperation with Dr. Khondaker Miraz Rahman and his start-up company, which focuses on cancer research by the abovementioned technique. That will be an excellent opportunity for me to put my previous and newly acquired skills into good use and take another step towards my goal.

I am aware that Huys Foundation is granting the scholarship to me with the anticipation of my good faith pursuit and implementation of the projects and undertakings described in this letter, to which I hereby commit.