Gregor Fuhrmann wants to use tiny membrane vesicles to transport active substances to where they are needed in the body. He started a junior research group at the HIPS to pursue this project.
Nano-researcher, but well-earthed
Gregor Fuhrmann basically inherited his interest in science from his parents, who are both graduate chemists. The native of Berlin decided to take up a course of study in pharmacy in Germany‘s capital. For his internship year, he visited the laboratory of Jean-Christophe Leroux in Montréal. “Since the chemistry between us was so good, we kept contact after my visit,“ Fuhrmann explains. After he received his license as a pharmacist, he commenced his doctoral work at the ETH Zürich in 2008 – again with Leroux, who had just transferred to Zürich.
Vesicles as messenger material
Months before receiving his doctoral degree, which he completed with honours, Fuhrmann secured a position as a postdoctoral fellow with Molly Stevens, a materials researcher in London. There he studied extracellular vesicles, i.e. vesicles released by body cells for purposes of communication with other cells or for defence against pathogens. It was obvious to Fuhrmann that vesicles can be used as targeted transporters to navigate active substances through the body to the site of disease: “As a messenger material the body is familiar with, vesicles are perfectly suited for this purpose,“ he says. He received no less than two stipends to pursue his idea.
His next goal was to set up his own research group to work on the control of infections. Especially the fate of cystic fibrosis patients, who suffer from persistent lung infections, drew his attention. And he went to look for help for his undertaking. In Germany, one person stood out in particular: Claus-Michael Lehr, who develops in vitro lung models at the Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland (HIPS). Ultimately, Fuhrmann approached Lehr at a conference in 2014.
“It was also helpful that both Molly and Jean-Christophe were present at the conference to put in a word for me,“ he explains. Since December 2016, Fuhrmann and his Biogenic Nanotherapeutics junior research group at the HIPS have been isolating and characterising vesicles from mammalian cells and bacteria, testing them on bacterial cultures either without modification or laden with active substances.
Within the next five years, we want to establish a method for the preparation and loading of vesicles with active substances that has the potential to be developed further for the market.
What differs London from Saarbrücken
In his career, from studies in Berlin to the junior research group in Saarbrücken, the 35 year-old has seen much of the world, while his focus always was on research. And this is no different in Saarbrücken: “The city is really nice and down-to-earth, not as aloof as London,“ he says. “But the good research conditions are the crucial difference.“ The HIPS is fascinating because of its modern looks and the local research groups are very experienced and very well networked.
Smalltalk not being his thing, Gregor Fuhrmann may sometimes seem a little standoffish because of his reticence. But he has managed to establish friendships from Jena to Québec and from Stockholm to Verona. The father of two children is also an enthusiastic amateur bio-gardener and fan of the Hertha BSC football club – two passions that are successful rarely enough but keep the professional high-flyer well-earthed.
Author: Kathrin Fuhrmann