I am a pharmaceutical and entrepreneurial scientist who has a passion to develop engineered therapeutics which are beyond the state-of-the-art therapeutics. My major focus ares are fibrosis and tumor microenvironment. I combine multiple disciplines of peptide chemistry, nanomedicine, molecular biology and bioengineering tools to address challenges of these complex pathologies.
I have an educational background in Pharmacology and Targeted Drug Delivery. I obtained PhD (cum laude) in 2006 from University of Groningen (The Netherlands) to design drug targeting strategies against kidney fibrosis. I then worked as a Vice President – Preclinical Research at BiOrion Technologies with a joint position at the University of Groningen. In 2011, I joined Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm as Forskarassistent (Assistant Professor) by receiving several prestigious grants Swedish Cancer Foundation grant, Marie Curie Career Integration Grant and Swedish Research Council young researcher grant. I set up a team to research on finding new targets in the tumor microenvironment, in particular in cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs). Then I was offered a Tenure-Track professor position at University of Twente to set up the new line of tumor microenvironment and targeted therapeutics. In the past years, I have gained unique expertise in finding therapeutic targets in CAFs and immune cells and cell-specific targeting strategies to re-program the tumor microenvironment. I have set up a team to develop 3D bioengineered tumor models to test novel engineered therapeutics. In 2019, I visited School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) in Harvard University for a few months and initiated new research lines and research collaborations.
Based on my inventions, I have founded a spin-off company ScarTec Therapeutics, which is developing novel peptide therapeutics for the treatment of organ fibrosis and tumor stroma. ScarTec has received NWO Take-off phase-1, phase-2 and H2020 SME phase-1 funding.
Besides this, I am currently serving as the President of Controlled Release Society (CRS) chapter for BeNeLux and France region.
The lab is carrying out dynamic inter-disciplinary research in the field of peptide therapeutics, cell-specific targeted delivery and nanomedicine for the indications in the field of fibrotic diseases and (immuno)-oncology.
In recent years, the significance of fibrosis in solid tumors has been highlighted in driving the tumor progression, invasion and metastasis. The crosstalk between tumor cells and stromal cells such as cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs), immune cells such as tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs) as well as extracellular matrix (ECM) is essential to maintain and stimulate the tumor growth and progression. The lab is, on the one hand, uncovering the underlying biology of tumor–stroma interaction, while on the other hand, developing innovative technologies to target specific tumor stromal cells to develop new therapeutics.
The lab has the following major research themes –
- Understanding the crosstalk between different cell types within the tumor microenvironment, especially focused on fibroblasts, macrophages and matrix interaction. We have recently investigated the role of several therapeutic targets such as intergrin alpha5 and alpha11 which are involved in these crosstalks.
- Peptide technologies as therapeutics to re-program the tumor microenvironment in order to enhance anti-tumour effect of chemotherapy – the lab has recently developed novel peptidomimetic against alpha5 which has led to the startup company ScarTec Therapeutics BV.
- Targeted nanomedicine to deliver therapeutic molecules (e.g. microRNA delivery, protein and peptide delivery) to specific cells within the tumor microenvironment to treat cancer.
- Nanotheranostic approaches to probe the stromal cells and immune cells within the tumour microenvironment using novel targeting ligands with a goal of personalized medicine.
- 3D Bioengineering technologies to emulate the tumor microenvironment (e.g. multicellular tumor spheroids, tumor-on-chip models, 3D bioprinted tumor models). We have developed 3D heterospheroid tumor model to study nanomedicine and recently developed a novel 3D bioprinted mini-brain model.
- Kuninty, P. R., Binnemars-Postma K.A., Jarray A., Pednekar, K.P., Heinrich, M.A., Pijffers, H., ten Hoopen, H., Storm, G., van Hoogevest, P., den Otter, W., & Prakash J. (2022) Engineering "tail-flipping" nanoliposomes to alter functionality of alternatively-activated macrophages in tumors: a novel biomimicry approach. Nature Communications. 10.1038/s41467-022-32091-9 (Impact factor: 17.7)
- Heinrich MA, Uboldi I, Kuninty PR, Ankone MJK, van Baarlen J, Zhang YS, Jain K, Prakash J. (2022) Microarchitectural mimicking of stroma-induced vasculature compression in pancreatic tumors using a 3D engineered model. Bioactive Materials. 22:18-33 (Impact factor 16.4)
- Kuninty, P. R., Bansal, R., S., D. G., Mardhian, D. F., Schnittert, J., van Baarlen, J., Storm, G., Bijlsma, M., van Laarhoven, Metselaar, J. M., Kuppen, P. J. K., Vahrmeijer, A., Ostman, A., Sier, C. F. M. & Prakash, J. (2019) ITGA5 inhibition in pancreatic stellate cells attenuates desmoplasia and potentiates efficacy of chemotherapy in pancreatic cancer. Science Advances 4;5(9):eaax2770. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aax2770. (Impact factor: 14.5)
- Heinrich MA, Bansal R, Lammers T, Zhang YS, Schiffelers RM, Prakash J. (2019) 3D-Bioprinted Mini-Brain: A Glioblastoma Model to Study cellular interactions and therapeutics. Advanced Materials. Apr;31(14):e1806590. (Impact factor: 30.1)
- Heinrich MA, Mostafa, AMRH, Morton J, Hawinkels LJAC, Prakash J. Translating complexity and heterogeneity of pancreatic tumor: 3D in vitro to in vivo models. Adv Drug Del Rev. 174:265-2. (Impact factor: 17.8)
- Rodrigues, J. , Heinrich, M. A. , Teixeira, L. M. , & Prakash, J. (2020) 3D In Vitro Model (R)evolution: Unveiling Tumor–Stroma Interactions. Trends in cancer. doi.org/10.1016/j.trecan.2020.10.009 (Impact factor: 19.0)
- Schnittert J, Bansal R, van Baarlen J, Ostman A, Prakash J. (2019) Integrin alpha11 in pancreatic stellate cells regulates tumor stroma interaction in pancreatic cancer. FASEB J May;33(5):6609-6621. (Impact factor: 5.0)
- Mardhian D, Storm G, Mishra DP, Bansal R, Prakash J. (2018) Nano-targeted relaxin impairs fibrosis and improves the efficacy of gemcitabine in vivo. J Control Release. 28;290:1-10 (Impact factor: 11.5)
Google Scholar Link
Affiliated Study Programmes
Courses Academic Year 2023/2024
Courses Academic Year 2022/2023
Volkskrant Newspaper (Sep 2019): Verzwakte muur om kankercellen biedt chemo een kans
Tubantia Newspaper, “UT sets new steps in the treatment of pancreatic cancer”, https://www.tubantia.nl/regio/ut-zet-flinke-stappen-in-behandeling-alvleesklierkanker~a2caecdc/
In the press
German Media: Rettung bei Pankreaskrebs in Sicht?
New medicine may enhance the effect of chemotherapy on pancreatic cancer
News on utwente.nl
New Medication May Enhance the effect of Pancreatic Cancer Chemotherapy https://www.utwente.nl/en/news/2019/9/512858/new-medication-may-enhance-the-effect-of-pancreatic-cancer-chemotherapy