“21st century science is not a one-man job”, as Prasanna Iyengar, (senior) postdoc at the Cell and Chemical Biology department of the LUMC puts it. It underlines what Prasanna values most in his work: collaborations. It is the interdisciplinary approach to modern research that enables researchers like Prasanna, to really have a high impact. And this impact is what it is all about, making a difference in health care.
Specifically, Prasanna’s work is focused on breast and bladder cancer research. “Most of my time is spent on designing and performing experiments, and testing hypotheses. But, I also spend a lot of time fostering collaborations, inside and outside the LUMC. To this end, I attend meetings both domestically and internationally. The LUMC gives me a chance to go out and attend these international meetings.” And as a postdoc, training and supervising master and PhD students and writing grants are also part of the job.
The research projects entail a specific focus on cancer resistance. “Cancer resistance is an ongoing clinical problem. In recent years, several anti-cancer drugs have failed due to unexplained resistance in patients. Our long term research goal is to try and understand what causes these resistance mechanisms by looking at cancer progression at molecular and cellular levels.” Ultimately, we have to come to realize personalised treatments options for patients and how to implement them clinically. “How one might react to a specific type of anti-cancer drug is not how someone else would react with a similar cancer. What we see now is that we treat similar types of cancer in different patients with the same drugs, while those drugs might not have the desired effect in all patients. Thankfully, the LUMC has ultra-modern facilities and advanced technologies that help me to carry out my research and to come to a solution to this problem.”
Treatment and prevention
A way of overcoming anti-cancer drug resistance is by studying intra-cellular signalling pathways in cancer cells. All cells including cancer cells receive and respond to signals from their surroundings. This is accomplished by a variety of signalling molecules that are present in the microenvironment and which are detected by specific receptors expressed by cells. This communication between cells integrates and coordinates many individual cells that make up an organism. Also, each cell is programmed to respond to specific extracellular signalling cues. Cell signalling research involves studying the spatial and temporal dynamics of both receptors and the components of signalling pathways that are activated by receptors in various cell types. “We strive to identify and target the pathways involved in anti-cancer drug resistance and try to block it. We also look for specific molecular biomarkers. These biomarkers are usually differentially expressed in certain types of cancer cells as compared to their surrounding (normal) tissues. By establishing biomarkers in patients, we will be able to determine if it is likely for the cancer to develop and treat patients at an early stage.”
Collaborating and the LUMC
One thing is clear in Prasanna’s quest to come to better treatments of breast and bladder cancer: he needs other experts to help him do it. “If I had to name the top three things about the LUMC, I would start with the colleagues. We work in such an international environment consisting of experts from all over the world. And not just trained molecular biologists like myself, but also chemists, bioinformaticians, structural biologists, clinicians and other experts. This interdisciplinary approach is what helps us solve complex research questions. If I were to do everything by myself, it would take me thirty years just to be trained in all disciplines, let alone conducting the research itself.” What also stands out to Prasanna is, as he says it: “The unique blend at the LUMC between hospital and research facilities. It is rare that you get to work in an organization that bridges the gap between the clinic and the research institute. You can directly translate your work into the clinical side of things.”
One dream about the future Prasanna can definitely express: “Certain cancer types are considered to be more prevalent in India, my home country. It would be very beneficial to utilize my international network and knowledge gained at the LUMC to help with cancer treatment in India. The LUMC is doing things that are very advanced, and which are not yet possible in India. I have been very fortunate to have joined the LUMC and hopefully I will be able to use this new knowledge to benefit my home country.”
See some of Prasanna’s work here.