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Kevin Neumann: "To pass on my knowledge and inspire students is inspiring to me"

Kevin NeumannIn July 2021, chemist Kevin Neumann has been appointed Assistant Professor in the Systems Chemistry group within the Institute for Molecules and Materials (IMM) of Radboud University. Neumann conducts research in the field of nanomedicine, focusing on innovative new principles for drug activation and delivery. The Systems Chemistry group aims to develop synthetic tools, materials, and systems to investigate emerging functions of self-assembled complex structures.

We interviewed Kevin about his research background, his research focus, and future goals within IMM.

What did you study?
“I studied chemistry at the University of Stuttgart (Germany). I was always fascinated by science, by the prospect to fabricate molecules and by designing molecules. What I am doing now – research at the interface of synthetic chemistry and medicine – is a continuation of my previous work in the field of biomedical science.”

What has been your career path so far?
“During my PhD in Edinburgh, UK, I worked on developing new methods to activate selectively drug molecules: how can we perform chemistry in living systems and how can we provide safer chemotherapy strategies. After my PhD I worked in Zurich (Switzerland), where I specialised on chemical synthesis of challenging peptides and even entire proteins structures that eventually might find applications as therapeutics. I had a great time in Zurich. Not only the fantastic research facilities but also the wonderful group environment and beautiful city were really inspiring.”

How did you end up at Radboud University?
“As for most job hirings, first I applied to the vacancy… (laughing) I must say that I was immediately convinced to work here, as the position in nanomedicine actually fitted very well. Also, there is a good mix of research and teaching. Therefore, I want to be part of the IMM community.”

What makes you happy going in the lab during the day?
“Firstly, there is plenty of freedom to work on something. We are really pushing the boundaries of chemistry which is inspiring. Secondly, I enjoy working together with students; teaching younger generations of scientists and see them develop into future scientists is a great part of our job.”

What exactly is nanomedicine?
“These days, nanomedicine is a very broad field. We define it for us as taking principles from synthetic chemistry and apply them in completely different field, namely in the field of medicine. Nanomaterials can be used as delivery tools to transport drugs to the targeted locations in the human body. We want to take this even further – and use these nanomaterials as small-sized factories to produce drug scaffolds.”

What is your research focus now?
“To form drug molecules inside a biological setting is a major challenge. Our main goal is to assemble drug molecules directly, connecting innocent fragments that only represent a small portion of the drug inside for example a living human body. If we manage to do this selectively, side effects will lower significantly.”

What is the societal relevance of your research?
“Of course, ultimately we want to provide better healthcare and we want to achieve this by employing novel principles of delivering and activating drugs in human bodies. One can imagine that these principles – selectivity, control over chemical structures, on-demand activations – could be also applied to other areas, for example agriculture.”

Which courses are you teaching and what makes it fun to do?
“I am involved in quite some courses: Polymer Chemistry, Essentials of Organic Chemistry, Science in Society and Chemical Biology. Teaching is so much more than repeating a textbook. I encourage students to ask additional questions during and after the lecture, which most students are actually doing.”

What are your future plans in terms of research?
“Now I have only talked about one project, namely to assemble drug molecules from innocent drug fragments. But we are doing much more, for example we are developing new antifouling materials: novel hydrophilic materials which have antibiotic properties and may prevent the formation of biofilms. This is another major challenge in medicine. The initial studies are very promising.”

Group website: Systems Chemistry - Systems Chemistry (ru.nl)

Text: Miriam Heijmerink