Dr Kalpana Surendranath

Dr Kalpana Surendranath

My primary objective as an academic is to empower students with lifelong learning skills by actively involving them in various processes of knowledge construction. In pursuit of this goal, I am consistently seeking innovative approaches to engage students in knowledge creation, with a specific focus on scientific research. I lead the University's Genome Engineering Laboratory (www.westmingenlab.uk), providing a sustainable platform for student innovation, short-term internships, and skill development to support their research ambitions.

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

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:

* Implementing a structured and transparent approach to research and knowledge exchange

* Advocating for the representation of women's voices in research

* Mentoring colleagues in identifying international research income opportunities

* Creating platforms for sharing research-informed and research-led practices across schools

About me:

In 1999, I earned my BSc in Biotechnology from Kongunadu Arts and Science College, Bharathiar University, achieving the distinction of a university medal recipient. Following this, I pursued an MSc degree in Microbial Gene Technology, securing my place through a national-level selection process at the Department of Microbial Technology, Madurai Kamaraj University. My academic journey continued with a Council for Scientific and Industrial Research lectureship and research fellowship (CSIR), obtained through a highly competitive national-level selection. This opportunity led me to join the top research institute of the country, Indian Institute of Science (IISC), Bangalore, India.

During my PhD studies at the Indian Institute of Science (2001-2007), I made a groundbreaking discovery by identifying neutralizing antibodies against Abrin, a highly potent RNA-degrading protein. My research findings, including the identification of the antibody D6F10 with clinical application potential, were published in prestigious international journals. Recognitions for my academic contributions continued to accumulate, with the Edward Youde grant affording me the opportunity to deliver an invited talk at City University of Hong Kong in 2003. Additionally, I initiated an interdisciplinary collaboration with the Physics department of IISc and Brookhaven National Laboratory (USA) aimed at elucidating the structure of Abrus agglutinin. My doctoral thesis garnered attention and was subsequently published as a comprehensive book by Lambert Academic Publishing, Germany, in 2009. Driven by a profound interest in the nuclear events that influence human cell health and disease, I dedicated four years to serving as a European Framework for DNA Repair Postdoctoral Research Fellow. This role was based at a pioneering lab in DNA mismatch repair within the Institute of Molecular Cancer Research at the University of Zurich.

Following a five-year maternity break, I joined the University of Westminster in 2015 as a part-time Lecturer. My role involved substantial contributions to teaching across over ten undergraduate and postgraduate modules. A significant milestone during this period was my introduction of CRISPR, marking the first instance of its incorporation into both teaching and research  extensively at a post-92 university in the country. In 2017, I transitioned into a full-time role and established the Genome Engineering Laboratory (www.westmingenlab.uk). Here, I recruited and mentored PhD students, with a primary focus on identifying novel targetable vulnerabilities in childhood cancers. To date, I have successfully supervised three PhD students and co-supervising 3 other doctoral researchers.


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 presently engaged in a pilot study investigating the potential of the ZFP36L1 protein as a therapeutic target in osteosarcoma cells. Our ongoing efforts aim to expand these findings into other cancer models.

Goal 4: Quality Education: I am dedicated to providing innovative, inclusive, and equitable high-quality education to undergraduate (BSc), postgraduate (MSc), doctoral (PhD) students, and early career researchers. A notable achievement has been my introduction of CRISPR genome engineering into both mainstream teaching and research at the University

Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls I was selected by the University to participate in the Aurora Women Leadership in Higher Education training program in 2016 and am currently honored to serve as an AdvanceHE UK role model. Additionally, since 2020, I have held the position of co-chair for the Women of Westminster Network for Research and Knowledge Exchange. My ongoing commitment involves working at the grassroots level to empower women in the workplace.

Goal 8: I actively promote the achievement of sustained and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all, aligning with the SDGs and the "Being Westminster" strategy. To realize these goals, I have initiated research-led programs like "Gene Editors of the Future" in 2020 and "Discover to Recover" in 2022. These initiatives are designed to foster the development of students and early career researchers, ultimately enhancing their employability.

Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation: Genome Engineering Laboratory has provided students with a platform to explore innovative ideas, leading to a consistent track record of student success stories over the years. Additionally, I am currently engaged in collaborations with small and medium-sized industries to create valuable bridging opportunities for students, further contributing to their growth and development.

Goal 17: Partnership for the goals: I actively cultivate robust connections with academic and industrial partners across the UK, Europe, and Asia, with a particular emphasis on empowering students as co-creators and leaders in these collaborative endeavors. Notably, during the pandemic, I organized and delivered more than 15 online workshops. These workshops were instrumental in fostering innovation in scientific research, reaching even remote parts of the world and engaging participants from diverse backgrounds.

Key Research Areas

RNA binding proteins and cancer

RNA binding proteins (RBPs) are versatile molecules crucial to various aspects of RNA biology, including biogenesis, function, stability, localization, and transport. Eukaryotic cells produce a plethora of RBPs, each with its unique protein-protein interaction characteristics and RNA-binding capabilities. Over the course of evolution, the diversity of RBPs has expanded, enabling eukaryotic cells to form distinct ribonucleoprotein complexes for individual RNAs through a wide array of exclusive combinations. Within the zinc finger family of RNA-binding proteins, ZFP36L1 stands out. These proteins, characterized by the CCCH class of tandem zinc finger domains, recognize conserved Adenylate Uridylate-rich elements (AREs) typically found in the 3' untranslated regions (UTRs) of mRNAs. They play a pivotal role in promoting mRNA degradation, ultimately leading to mRNA decay. The ZFP36 family is involved in the regulation of numerous ARE-containing mRNAs, encoding proteins related to processes such as development, cell differentiation, inflammation, and apoptosis. The loss of ZFP36 family members' expression can lead to the dysregulation of several mRNA targets, some of which are critical for the control of oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes. Despite rapid technological advancements in recent years, there remains limited understanding of the functional relevance of certain RBPs. While there has been remarkable progress in uncovering RNA-binding motifs and the modes of RBP-RNA interactions, many questions persist, including the structural details of these proteins, their subcellular localization, their precise arrangements in complex RNA assemblies within different cellular compartments, and their connections to various diseases

DNA damage response and human diseases

The health and physiological well-being of an organism hinge on the constant interplay between mechanisms that induce DNA damage and those responsible for its repair. Despite its seemingly protected location, the genetic material, DNA, faces daily threats to its integrity. These threats manifest in diverse ways, encompassing structural modifications and functional alterations of the key components involved in DNA damage response (DDR). Notably, the majority of cancers exhibit heightened reliance on specific DDR mechanisms, often resulting from the loss of one or more DDR functions during oncogenesis. By pinpointing these dependencies, we can leverage precision medicine strategies and targeted DDR inhibitors to maximize DNA damage, selectively eradicating cancer cells. Empirical investigations have underscored an increased rate of mutations in DDR genes within tumor cells, establishing a clear link between replication stress and tumor progression. In response to replication stress, cells have evolved intricate cell cycle checkpoint pathways and DNA damage repair mechanisms strategically positioned at defined stages to rectify DNA damage and ensure high-fidelity replication. G1 checkpoints thwart faulty DNA replication, while G2/M checkpoints prevent damaged DNA from entering mitosis. Throughout the S phase of the cell cycle, multiple intra-S-phase checkpoints and pathways operate to safeguard error-free replication and prevent genome instability. Oncogene-induced replication stress represents a vulnerability specific to tumors, offering a rationale for the clinical development of inhibitors targeting DDR kinases, including CHK1, ATR, ATM, and WEE1. Collectively, the pursuit of cancer-specific vulnerabilities in DNA repair has demonstrated improved response rates, enhanced overall survival, and minimized toxic side effects in patients.

CRISPR/Cas diagnostics for biosensing and early detection of diseases

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, novel Cas fusion proteins and 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.


Enhancing Knowledge Exchange and Research-Informed Student Experiences:

Since my tenure as a part time lecturer in 2015, I have been committed to align my professional aspirations and contributions with the strategic objectives of the university. In 2023, a significant achievement  is the successful second iteration of the extracurricular student training programme, 'Gene Editors of the Future.' This programme has not only benefitted over 150 students in its basic version but has also provided advanced training to 50 students. I am delighted to share that this initiative has recently gained recognition as London's largest extracurricular student training programme in CRISPR.  In my capacity as a member of the Academic Council, I have had the privilege of assuming a university-wide role. Specifically, I was chosen to serve on the panel tasked with selecting participants for the Academic Council Shadowing Scheme. Moreover, I've contributed to our institution's commitment to academic excellence and future readiness by conducting two impactful workshops on research-informed education in collaboration with CETI. These workshops were specifically designed to support and empower newly recruited colleagues across various colleges.  Additionally, I am one of the principal investigators for a grant application on the Biotechnology international Internship Programme funded by the Ministry of Education, Government of Kazakhstan. This proposal has successfully secured funding amount of £120,000. The two research articles published this year are first of its kind in journals of impact factor 7 (Computer methods and Programmes in Biomedicine and Nature communications (17.6). I received an invitation to co-author an editorial for the recently published successful issue titled 'RNA Binding Proteins and Cancer’ in early 2023. 


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



  • Medicines Diagnostics and Disease Modelling

Sustainable Development Goals
In brief

Research areas

RNA binding proteins and DNA damage response, combinatorial cancer therapy

Supervision interests

DNA damage response and human diseases, RNA binding proteins
Gene editors of the future: a life-changing research–led development programme for the Life Sciences student community

Quintin Hogg trust