Dr Kalpana Surendranath

Dr Kalpana Surendranath

My major goal as an academic is to equip students with life-long learning skills through involving them in multiple workflows of knowledge construction.Towards this, I am continuously exploring new ways of engaging students in knowledge creation, particularly in scientific research.

Education: BSc Biotechnology; MSc Microbial Gene technology; PhD Life Sciences (Molecular Cell Biology), PGCert Higher Education

Senior Fellow of Higher Education Academy - SFHEA

Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology – FRSB

Member of Academic Council of the University of Westminster

I am the creator and leader of the Genome engineering Laboratory of the University (www.westmingenlab.uk). The Genome Engineering Laboratory aims at offering a long-term sustainable platform for research-informed student innovations and success stories. Our laboratory offers short term funded and non-funded internships and bridging opportunities for undergraduates to nurture the important skills to boost the adept researcher ambitions of students.

Awards/recognitions:  Vice Chancellor's WestminSTAR award (2019); chosen as 1 million women in STEM role model; Women of Westminster award (2020)-under category innovation; Westminster champion award for student experience (2019); Aurora women Leadership in Higher Education champion and role model (2018); Award of individual teaching excellence from CETI (2019), University of Westminster

My key priorities include:

Structured and Transparent approach to Research and Knowledge Exchange, representation of Voices of Women in Research, mentoring colleagues in International Research Income opportunities, opportunities to Share Best Practice Across Schools.

About me:

I completed BSc in Biotechnology from Bharathiar University in 1999 with a university medal and distinction following MSc degree offer in Microbial Gene Technology through national level selection at the department of Microbial technology, Madurai Kamaraj University. I was awarded a council for scientific and industrial research lectureship and research fellowship through national level selection and joined the premier research institute Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India.  I carried out my PhD (2001-2007) at the department of Biochemistry, and my research was the first one that reported neutralising antibodies to one of the most potent toxic RNA destructing protein in nature Abrin. My research work was published in reputed international journals including the identification of the antibody D6F10 with potential clinical applications.  I was awarded the Edward Youde grant for an invited talk in City University of Hong Kong in 2003. I also initiated an interdisciplinary study with the Physics department of IISc and Brookhaven National laboratory (USA) to resolve the structure of Abrus agglutinin. The doctoral thesis earned me several accolades including the invited publication of the entire work as a book by Lambert Academic Publishing, Germany in 2009. Due to specific interests in the importance of nuclear events that govern health and disease state of human cells, I spent 4 years as European framework for DNA repair Postdoctoral Research Fellow at a pioneering lab in DNA mismatch repair at the Institute of Molecular Cancer Research, University of Zurich. I engineered human molecular several complexes for the invitro reconstitution of human mismatch repair system. I was identified as a co-applicant on a cooperative Pilot Project grant on systems biology awarded to the institute in the year 2008.

After an extended maternity career break for 5 years, I joined University of Westminster as visiting Lecturer in 2015 where I contributed to teaching in over 10 UG and PG modules. It was during this time; I introduced the Nobel prize winning innovative genome engineering technology CRISPR to both teaching and research at the University. I was recruited to a fulltime post in 2017 and in the same year instituted the Genome Engineering laboratory (www.westmingenlab.uk) and recruited PhD students for the work on identification of novel targetable cancer vulnerabilities in childhood cancers. I have completed 2 PhD supervisions and 1 co-supervision. Currently, I am the director of research for 1 PhD student and co-supervising 2 doctoral students on collaborative projects.

I supervise a number of BSc, MSc and PhD project students and lecture on undergraduate and Postgraduate courses at Life Sciences.


United Nations Sustainable Development goals:

My work in academia /research has been in genuine alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, as indicated below:

My work on the “Gene Editors of the Future” was highlighted in SDG report of the University on 2021.

Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages: We are currently involved in a pilot Investigation of the ZFP36L1 protein as a candidate therapeutic target in osteosarcoma cells. Efforts are underway to extend the observations in breast and colorectal cancer models.

Goal 4: Quality Education: Innovative, inclusive and equitable high-quality education to undergraduate (BSc) and postgraduate (MSc), Doctoral (PhD) students and early career researchers. I introduced CRISPR genome engineering to both mainstream teaching and research at the University.

Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls- I have been chosen by the University for  Aurora, women leadership in Higher Education training programme in 2016 and currently serve as AdvanceHE UK role model. Since 2020, I am one of the co-chairs of Women of Westminster Network for Research and Knowledge Exchange and currently working at the grassroots for women empowerment in workplace.

Goal 8: Promote sustained and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all: In line with SDGs and the “Being Westminster” strategy, I have created research-led initiatives such as the Gene Editors of the Future (2020) and Discover to Recover (2022) programmes for development of students and early career researchers and enhanced employability.

Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation: I created the Genome Engineering Laboratory and established a niche for students to explore innovations and made multiple student success stories year after year, I am currently collaborating with small and medium sized industries to create bridging opportunities for students.

Goal 17: Partnership for the goals: I foster strong links with UK, Europe and Asia tthrough International academic and industrial collaborators, most importantly taking students as co-creators and leaders in these efforts. I have delivered over 15 online workshops during the pandemic to promote innovations in scientific research including remote parts of the world.

Key Research Areas

RNA binding proteins and cancer

RNA binding proteins (RBPs) are multifaceted proteins that play critical roles in RNA biogenesis, function, stability, cellular localization and transport. A great number of RBPs are produced in eukaryotic cells, each enclosing a unique protein-to-protein interaction characteristic and RNA-binding activity. The remarkable diversity of RBPs have increased during evolution; allowing eukaryotic cells to give rise to unique RNP for each RNA by utilizing a wide range of exclusive combinations. ZFP36L1 belongs to a zinc finger family of RNA binding protein, which are characterised by CCCH class of tandem zinc finger proteins. This zinc finger protein family recognises conserved Adenylate Uridylate rich elements (AREs) present in 3'untranslated regions (UTRs) of mRNAs and promote their degradation, ultimately leading to mRNAs decay. ZFP36 family are implicated in regulation of many ARE containing mRNAs, which encode for proteins related to development, cell differentiation, inflammation and apoptosis. Loss of ZFP36 family member expressions results in deregulation of several mRNA targets that have prominent role in regulation of oncogenes and tumour suppressor genes. Although, in the recent years with technology developing rapidly, there are RBPs where little about their functional relevance is known. Up till date, there has been an impressive progress in the discovery of RNA-binding motifs and RBPs mode of interaction with RNA however their structure, the location of these proteins and the precise arrangements of these proteins in the complex RNA assemblies of distinct cellular compartments  and the link to diseases is still a mystery.

DNA damage response and human diseases

The health and physiology of an organism is the result of continuous battle between the mechanisms that induce damage to DNA and those in charge of its repair. Despite its secure location and apparent protection, the integrity of DNA, the genetic material faces threats daily. The modalities and mechanisms are very varied, including different forms of structural modification and functional alteration of the molecular players of DNA damage response. Importantly, most cancers have a greater dependency on particular DDR mechanisms, due to the loss of one or more DDR capabilities during the oncogenesis. By understanding and identifying these dependencies, we can use precision medicine approaches and targeted DDR inhibitors to maximise DNA damage and selectively kill cancer cells. Experimental studies have shown increased rate of mutations in DDR genes in the tumour cells, showing a clear relationship between replication stress and tumour progression. To counteract replication stress, cells have evolved sophisticated cell cycle checkpoints pathways and DNA damage repair pathways that are present at well-defined points to resolve DNA damage and ensures completion of replication with high fidelity. While G1 checkpoints prevent occurrence of any faulty DNA replication to occur, G2/M checkpoints prevent entering of damaged DNA into mitosis. During S phase of cell cycle, multiple intra-S- phase checkpoints are incorporated with multiple pathways to ensure error-free replication and prevent genome instability. Oncogene-induced replication stress is a tumour specific vulnerability target and served as a rationale for the clinical development of inhibitors targeting the DDR kinases including CHK1, ATR, ATM and WEE1. Overall, targeting cancer-specific vulnerabilities in DNA repair has been shown to improve response rates, increase overall survival and limit toxic side effects in patients. We pioneer in genome engineering research at the University and will continue to push the boundaries of our knowledge in this important area to improve the understanding of anticancer mechanisms.

CRISPR/Cas diagnostics for biosensing and early detection of diseases

 The Genome Engineering laboratory uses CRISPR/Cas9 technology to generate cellular models of human diseases. We apply the above technology extensively to study molecular origins of human cancers. In the past few years, we have successfully introduced targeted changes at the human genome to deplete/functionally inactivate cancer driver genes (breast, colorectal and childhood bone cancers). The sudden emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the demand for reliable diagnostic tools have directed our focus on innovations in applications of CRISPR tools in diagnostics. In less than five years, CRISPR-based diagnostics have evolved from a basic research tool to efficient clinically relevant diagnostic platforms. Currently, we aim at utilizing the existing opportunities to creating an improved workflow for generation of a portable, highly sensitive, rapid nucleic acid detection platform to aid: monitoring disease epidemiology, diagnostics and in laboratory tasks that require nucleic acid detection. Specifically, our long-term objective is to leverage the expertise of CRISPR within the genome engineering laboratory to create a nucleic-acid -base point-of-care (POC) diagnostic test for routine use in clinical care. Improvements made in this direction will be also utilised to facilitate monitoring genetic markers indicative of cancers which is one of the primary interests of our lab.


Contributions to knowledge exchange and research-informed student experiences:

Between 2018-2021, I have designed and delivered international workshops for multiple institutes in Europe, India and Asia around the theme “Editing the blueprint of life –a CRISPR/Cas9 tool to dissect and cure human disease” Our workshops received greater appreciation from the international higher education community and early career researchers. Also, building on this I organised a successful 3-day IBMS accredited international short course in human Genome Engineering participated by different institutes within UK and from outside. I created the “Gene Editors of the Future” programme tailored with opportunities to co-create, co-imagine and co-shape student ideas and which offered transformative experiences for 140 Life Sciences students. It is noteworthy that a student initiative of this scale has not been witnessed elsewhere, particularly during the covid pandemic. Student feedback indicated that the programme significantly enhanced their experience on their degree programme and equipped them with invaluable professional experience in gene editing and beyond.


Surendranath, K (2020). Available at: https://theconversation.com/nobel-prize-two-women-share-chemistry-prize-for-the-first-time-for-work-on-genetic-scissors-147721   Accessed: 16 Jan 2022

Surendranath, K (2020). Available at: https://www.westminster.ac.uk/news/dr-kalpana-surendranath-for-sky-news-round-table-about-editing-human-embryos Accessed: 16 Jan 2022

Surendranath, K (2020). Available at: https://www.westminster.ac.uk/news/genome-engineering-laboratory-organises-international-online-workshop Accessed: 16 Jan 2022

Surendranath, K (2021). Available at: https://www.westminster.ac.uk/news/westminster-academics-launch-student-innovation-community-gene-editors-of-the-future-for-students. Accessed: 16 Jan 2022

New Genome Engineering Laboratory internships introduced through generous alumnus donation | University of Westminster


Gene editors of the future: a life-changing research–led development programme for the Life Sciences student community

Quintin Hogg trust