Recent Study Led by Temple Alum Demonstrates How CRISPR Can Help Overcome Challenges in the Fight Against Cancer

Harutyun Khachatryan, a 2022 graduate of the Temple University Doctor of Pharmacy program, was the lead author of "Identification of Inhibitors of Tubulin Polymerization Using a CRISPR-Edited Cell Line with Endogenous Fluorescent Tagging of β-Tubulin and Histone H1," published in the journal Biomolecules. Gene-editing CRISPR technology is an emerging biotechnological tool that Bill Gates recently said "revolutionized health over the past decade."

Tubulin is an essential protein in our cells that helps keep their shape and allows them to divide. The Temple research team on this study came up with a less time-consuming and laborious approach than past drug development efforts to prevent tubulin from joining. This process can stop cancer cells from growing. They used special cells that have been DNA-edited with CRISPR technology.  

Another complication with past efforts was that they required either purified tubulin from animals or evaluation of dead stained cells under a microscope to study tubulin microtubule formation. The Temple research team added a green color tag to the tubulin protein in the cells to watch the tubulin in action and see if certain drugs can stop it from joining. This new method is faster and cheaper and allows working with live cells by looking at their tubulin microtubules under a specialized microscope.

The Temple research team analyzed a group of 429 compounds under preclinical or clinical investigation and discovered three compounds that inhibit tubulin polymerization. This demonstration is highly significant because it suggests that this new approach could rapidly and affordably facilitate the study of a vast number of compounds to identify novel tubulin polymerization inhibitors for their potential use as anti-cancer agents.

Khachatryan was joined on the study by Carlos Barrero, MD, John Gordon, PhD, and Bartlomiej Olszowy. The research was done under Oscar Perez-Leal, MD's direction at the Moulder Center for Drug Discovery in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences.