Dear friends and strangers,
My name is Hrachya and I have recently got my master’s degree at Depratment of Physics, Yerevan State University in Armenia. In order to continue my research (about which I will talk in the next paragraphs), I have applied for a PhD program at King’s College London and got an offer.
Since my childhood, I have been extremely curious. Every phenomena fascinated me, like rainbows, a red moon, sky’s different colours, eclipses, the big mushroom-like clouds made from ash and dust. Especially the latter was my motivation to study Physics, particularly Nuclear Physics. The idea of how much destruction one single weapon can bring, drove me towards my goal, which is making enough bombs to annihilate all who oposes me, become a supreme emperor of the earth and dominate it. Well, that was a joke obviously, I didn’t really study Nuclear Physics. In fact, genetic diseases, cancer in particular, and their physical and biological origin intrigued me so much, that I have decided to study Molecular Physics and Biophysics. And my dream, which now became a goal, is to develop a drug, which can be activated inside a human body to develop any type of cancer, and with this drug filled in all potable water supplies on the earth I will enslave the humanity, thus becoming the supreme emperor. Fine, enough jokes for today.
In fact, my interest stated in the previous paragraph on cancer research was true. Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. According to World Health Organization nearly 1 in 6 deaths is due to cancer. If not diagnosed early, it becomes harder to cure and more expensive. There is no particular single cure for cancer, and researchers around the globe are working on different approaches of an affordable and more effective treatment. Starting from the 3rd year of my bachelors degree, I was involved in a research project on a relatively new cancer treatment method. The approach is rather interesting and seemingly with a great potential, so I have decided to continue my research in this field. To explain it, a little bit of terminology would be useful:
- It is known that there are 4 types “building blocks” in DNA called nucleotides, and each of them contains 1 of 4 different nucleobases (guanine, adenine, cytosine, thymine). In the famous double-helix DNA, strands are complementary, which means that guanine is bound to cytosine and adenine is bound to thymine.
- At the end of each chromosomal DNA there is a small guanine-rich sequence called telomere. Telomeres shorten with each subsequent cell division. If they are short enough, the cell won’t divide and will die.
- In some cells (stem cells, cancer cells etc.) there is an enzyme called telomerase, which elongates the telomeres. If this process is fast enough, the cell will be practically immortal (that is the case for cancer).
- Gene expression starts with a process called transcription (which is basically the process of copying the gene on an m-RNA molecule, which then will be put into a ribosome and will be translated into a protein). Transcription will start at the gene promoter (enzyme called RNA polymerase will sit on this region and start the process). In oncogenes, these regions are rich with guanine and hence with cytosine.
The idea of this method is to lock some particular guanine/cytosine rich segments (telomeres, promoter regions) of DNA in cancer cells into structures known as G-quadruplex/i-motif. If we do this to telomeres, telomerase will not recognize this site and will not elongate it. In case of promoters, gene expression will be suppressed. Both of these cases, you have guessed it, will lead to cancer cell’s death. I am investigating the behavior and the stability of these structures in different environments (in solutions with different solutes like sodium chloride, urea, glycine betaine etc.). This could be an ultimate method to cure cancer regardless of its type, but it has a disadvantage similar to other methods like chemotherapy. It can affect the healthy cells the same way as it will affect cancer cells. So, after invention of such drug, optimized drug carriers are necessary in order to ensure the precision of the drug delivery.
I have got an offer for a PhD program from King’s College London. The group in which I will do my research focuses on computer simulations to investigate properties of various drug carriers. Apart from this they are strongly collaborating with the experimental research groups which are testing their findings in the laboratory. In this research group, I am going to do a step forward into the drug delivery field and combine my present research with it. After graduation, my goal is to establish a lab and build a research team in my home country which will focus on genetic disorders and particularly on cancer research and attract Armenian youth to this crucial field of science.
Now it is time to reveal the purpose of my story (as if nobody knows). Surprise, surprise, the tuition fees and living expenses in UK are too high for an Armenian and there are very few scholarships available, some of which I am not eligible to apply to, the others are small bursaries given to random applicants. Tuition fees for my program are 22.050 pounds a year, plus accommodation, which will cost from 10.000-15.000 pounds a year, plus costs for living, but the latter does not matter, I can stay hungry for 3 years or feed on rats in underground London. The only scholarship I will get is from Armenian General Benevolent Union, but its amount is small (2000 pounds). In pursuit of more suiting scholarships and sponsorships for a long time and without finding one, I have gone desperate and have decided to kindly ask you, my dear friends, acquaintances and strangers, to make your contribution so I will be able to continue my research in this important field. For this I will be grateful to you all my entire life. And if by some miracle, I will get more funds than the target amount, the surplus will go to a charity in Armenia.