In conversation with Prof. Prakriti Tayalia and Dr. Mamatha Pillai

Prof. Prakriti Tayalia is a Professor at the Department of Biosciences and Bioengineering (BSBE) at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT Bombay). Her research interests include Tissue engineering, Immunotherapy and Biomaterials. Prof. Tayalia is a recipient of many prestigious awards, including Outstanding Immunologist Award – Female Category (Indian Immunology Society) 2022, Merck Young Scientist Award for Life Sciences (Merck India) 2021. Prof. Tayalia is a prolific researcher and is embarking on her entrepreneurial journey.

Dr. Mamatha Pillai is a Project Research Scientist in Prof. Tayalia’s research group. She obtained her Ph.D. in Nano-biotechnology from the PSG Institute of Advanced Studies, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. Her research interests include exploring different biomaterials for their use in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. Investigating and developing biomaterials and nanomaterial-based strategies for addressing autoimmune disorders and various diseases such as cancer.

Q. Could you tell us about your research interests and your professional journey?

Prakriti: Tissue engineering is an incredibly captivating field of study. My journey began during my PhD, where I delved into the realm of tissue engineering, focusing on fabrication of three-dimensional (3D) scaffolds and utilizing them for various biological applications. Over time, my fascination with the subject only intensified, leading me to pursue continued research in the field well beyond my postdoctoral years. In my research group, our primary focus lies in the development of 3D scaffolds tailored for the culture of tumor cells and tumor spheroids, as well as for the targeted delivery of bioactive agents aiming for applications in immunotherapy and tissue regeneration. While these porous cryogel scaffolds are designed for 3D cell culture, we have also demonstrated their efficacy in material-based gene delivery methods for in vivo genetic modifications, immunotherapy and spheroid formation. These scaffolds can help with providing insights into cellular mechanisms and serve as invaluable tools for drug screening initiatives.

Dr. Mamatha-Pillai

Mamatha: I completed my PhD in biomaterials and tissue engineering, specializing in tissue regeneration. Throughout my doctoral and postdoctoral research, I acquired expertise in designing various scaffolds for cartilage, bone, and nerve tissue regeneration. Upon meeting Prof. Tayalia, I expressed my strong interest in translational research focused on tissue regeneration. Collaboratively, we conceptualized an idea to develop wound dressings and scaffolds for skin tissue regeneration.

Q: Can you share a bit more about the skin tissue regeneration work?

Prakriti: We initially began developing skin substitutes using porous cryogels with another student of mine. Our focus was on utilizing natural materials such as phytochemicals. When Mamatha joined, we shifted our focus to bilayered skin regeneration scaffolds. Although the two systems are different, we believed that merging them would be advantageous. This led us to pursue both bilayered skin substitutes and bilayered polymeric patches.

These technologies have potential application in diabetic wound healing, infection wound healing and burn wound healing. We are currently working on these wound models to study the efficacy of our bilayered patches and skin substitutes.

With these technologies we aim to offer more affordable and effective solutions for wound healing. While there are modest options (not bilayered) currently available in the market, the existing patches/bandages need frequent changes and increase the risk of secondary infections to the wounds. The new patches we have developed are more efficient, would require fewer changes, and are expected to expedite the healing process.

Mamatha: I delved into extensive literature concerning the current landscape of skin regeneration and the development of biopolymer-based scaffolds. Back in 2019, when I conducted this research, I discovered a notable gap: there were no existing bilayered or multi-layered scaffolds offering multiple functionalities to facilitate optimal wound healing. The concept of a bilayer entails a hydrophilic layer in direct contact with the skin, complemented by a hydrophobic layer on top, serving as a barrier against microbial invasion into the wound. Our developed electrospun wound dressings are characterized by their stretchability and enhanced efficacy, resulting in an accelerated healing process.

We have designed two distinct wound healing technologies. The first one is a dermal patch, which is a bilayered polymeric construct endowed with antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. These patches serve as effective agents for wound healing by preserving moisture and conveying essential signals across a broad surface area. The patch comprises a top layer composed of PCL and chitosan polymer, while the bottom layer consists of PVA polymer infused with wound healing agents.

The second one, which was a part of the PhD project of Rituparna, is a three-dimensional, bilayered skin substitute fabricated from natural, biocompatible, FDA-approved biopolymers. The top layer features a non-porous film that fulfills necessary barrier functions, while the dermal layer comprises a macroporous cryogel with antibacterial properties, facilitating cell attachment and migration to optimize wound healing. Notably, both layers naturally degrade over time, obviating the need for additional surgeries to remove them or for autologous skin grafts.

Q: What inspired you to take this forward as a startup?

Prakriti: We visited many hospitals and spoke with numerous doctors. During our visit to Masina Hospital to obtain primary cells for our studies, the doctors enquired about what we were doing. When we showed our samples and explained the technology we were developing, they were extremely impressed and asked us when it would be available for them to use for their patients. This was encouraging, and it really motivated us to pursue our idea further.

Getting end-user feedback is crucial, and this interaction marked a critical step in our commercialization journey. These interactions are essential for making the necessary tweaks in the design and technology to meet market needs. With feedback and encouragement from doctors, we decided to translate our technology. That is when we decided to engage with more people in the commercialization domain and decided to move forward with the startup idea.
We are in the process of incubating at SINE and will soon initiate the process to incorporate our company. We will undoubtedly need more support on this journey, but we are ready for the challenges and eagerly anticipate the next steps.

Q. What were the challenges that you faced during this and what motivates you to move forward?

Prakriti: One of the biggest challenges is dependence on animal house facilities. We are heavily dependent on having access to specialized facilities, which can present logistical challenges. We have used facilities at ACTREC, Bombay veterinary college, IISER Pune etc.

Transitioning from academic research to commercial products involves navigating various complexities, such as regulatory approvals, market understanding, and product development for competitive advantage. As academicians we find it challenging to figure out the commercialization aspects. When we are looking for commercialization funding for these translational projects, we get asked questions like, “What is our market? What is the size of the market? What is the cost of the product?”, etc. These types of questions are a bit abstract for us as academicians. Academicians usually focus on aspects such as novelty, publications, something being interesting to work on. We don’t always have training in commercialization aspects.

We are at an early stage of our commercialization journey, and we will come across many challenges but with the right support from the ecosystem of IIT Bombay we are confident that we will be able to overcome these challenges. We are finding support from various channels, we are talking to a lot of doctors, consultants who are experts in the commercialization domain. We’re especially happy with the support we've received from WRCB. In the past, WRCB funded a project that helped us get important equipment for making our skin regenerating scaffolds. WRCB has created an environment that encourages researchers like us to take big steps forward.
As an academician, publishing is undoubtedly valuable for me, but if you can actually see the utility of what you have worked on, I think that is very gratifying. My lab has increased focus on translational projects as it motivates us to develop technologies that have potential to significantly improve people’s lives.

Mamatha: We are deeply invested and resolute in our pursuit. Recognizing the potential of our product, we understand its pivotal role in addressing a notable gap within the market. Presently, such an innovative solution remains absent from the market landscape. Rigorous testing has been conducted to validate the efficacy of our products which includes animal studies as well. This robust validation process has instilled us with confidence in the capabilities of our innovation.

Q. What advice would you give to your colleagues from academia and young innovators?

Prakriti: We are fortunate to be in an ecosystem of IIT Bombay, where we are getting exposure to the right facilities, including an upcoming GMP facility and an existing startup environment. I don’t think I am in a position yet to give advice to colleagues on this aspect, but I can speak for myself. I want to give it a fair shot and give ourselves 2-3 years because if we do not try, we would never know. Conviction is needed for the idea. Challenges are inevitable and will be of different kinds for different people, products, strategies but we have to tackle them one at a time and figure out how to move forward.

Mamatha: From my previous experience with startups and my current venture, I have learned the paramount importance of direct communication with end users of our technology or product. These interactions with doctors and surgeons from various hospitals have provided invaluable insights into the true value of our technology and have offered the encouragement needed to push forward with our entrepreneurial endeavors. Equally significant is networking with diverse stakeholders, as it allows for a wealth of knowledge exchange. Such engagements not only refine our products to better meet market needs but also amplify their potential impact.

In recent times, the landscape has seen a significant expansion of opportunities, with ample support available in terms of funding and infrastructure from both governmental and private sources. This presents an opportunity to embark on the path of commercialization. Researchers and students looking to venture into entrepreneurship can benefit greatly from additional courses focused on non-technical aspects of commercialization. These courses can equip them with the necessary skills and knowledge to navigate the entrepreneurial journey effectively.

Prof. Tayalia received WRCB’s intramural funding support in 2018, 2020, and 2022 for various projects, including development of novel strategies for wound healing using bilayered bioactive skin substitute and dermal patch.

Back to Top
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram