Analysis of desirable and undesirable immune reactions to biologicals has become a core competence at IMC University of Applied Sciences Krems in recent years as a result of the establishment of the Krems Bioanalytics research institute (IKB). Following the acquisition of a high-resolution mass spectrometer, IKB’s goal is to develop an analytical platform for the qualitative and quantitative characterisation of immune responses to biotherapeutics and vaccines, including gene therapies. This has the capacity to prove the effectiveness of treatments and lead to the identification of potential negative side effects. In this interview, Benjamin Neuditschko explains what exactly he is researching and the potential it holds.
What is being researched in the Clinical Proteomics Krems research lab, and how?
The main focus of our research group is on protein analysis, i.e. the study of proteins, also referred to in specialist circles as proteomics. This literally means the analysis of the totality of all proteins in a sample. In practice, however, it refers to many different methods that investigate different aspects of proteins. Our current focus is on the precise determination of protein concentrations in biological systems such as blood or tissue, and on research into interactions between proteins.
What is your research focus and what do you find most fascinating about it?
My research concentrates on protein analysis using mass spectrometry. We use this analytical method to pinpoint different proteins in a complex sample with great precision. For me, the most interesting aspect of this area of research clearly lies in the complexity of the individual analyses. Mass spectrometry does not determine proteins per se, but measures the exact mass of the molecule that is injected. The same device can be used, for example, to identify small biological molecules (known as metabolites), lead contaminants in water, products of chemical reactions in the laboratory, or even proteins. While the measurements and principle are basically always the same, it is the preparations and evaluations that make the difference.
What project is on your research agenda at the moment?
Right now, my research is looking at the interactions between proteins. The main focus is on the binding of antibodies and antigens. The use of antibodies in the treatment of diseases is becoming increasingly important. They make it possible to influence very specific targets in the body and, by extension, to combat diseases with as few side effects as possible. The study of antibody-antigen interactions can be used to investigate potential new drugs and characterise the way that they bind to targets.
Why did you decide to study chemistry?
I developed an interest in science in school. The last two years in particular provided sufficient scope for digging deeper into physics, chemistry and biology. I always found chemistry to be the most appealing. Chemical reactions can be found in everyday situations, but we would never classify them that way. Another factor was that I had a young, motivated teacher at school who encouraged me to study chemistry. In my Biological Chemistry master programme, I was able to expand my knowledge of biology and study the chemical reactions that underpin life.
Why did you go into science and how did your career develop?
During my bachelor degree in chemistry, I went to a biochemistry lecture which described in detail the biochemical pathway that food – sugar in this particular instance – takes on its way to becoming energy that the body can use. The topic continued across several units, and eventually we learned that the pH value in a specific part of the cell changes minimally, driving a molecular motor. The fact that an extremely complex, controlled process can cause one part of the cell to be slightly more acidic than another part, and that life as we know it today is based on such a simple chemical process measured for instance using the pH scale, immediately sparked my enthusiasm for biochemistry. Later, I came across mass spectrometry as part of my studies. This gave me the opportunity to study biological systems. I then applied to do my master thesis at the Institute of Analytical Chemistry at the University of Vienna, was accepted and was able to continue this work in my doctoral thesis as a result.
What did you want to do when you were growing up? And are you happy that your career has followed the path it has taken?
As a child, I wanted to be a priest . Looking back, the fact that my career took this course and that I now have a doctorate in chemistry is a little unexpected. Growing up on a farm, the path of studying in Vienna wasn’t necessarily the most likely one – especially since I was not exactly what you might call a straight-A student. But my interest in science and the joy that discovering new things brings me – which has remained with me ever since childhood – paved the way for me to study at university back then. Even though I didn't know what to expect and it wasn't always easy, I never thought about giving up. So, inevitably it seems, I ended up doing my PhD and I'm looking forward to continuing to drive my research forward for a long time to come.
What do you find so exciting about research work?
For me, working at IMC Krems combines two fascinating aspects of research. Firstly, we are required to conduct basic research in order to develop new analyses and better understand biological systems. And secondly, the proximity of IKB to various industrial partners provides an ideal opportunity to offer mass spectrometry analysis commercially and to jointly develop new methods to enable the development and research of new treatment approaches.
About Benjamin Neuditschko
Dr. Benjamin Neuditschko holds a bachelor degree in chemistry and a master degree in biological chemistry from the University of Vienna. He first heard about mass spectrometry while writing his master thesis at the Institute of Analytical Chemistry. In his doctoral thesis in the Bioanalytics working group he investigated the molecular effects of metal-based cancer therapeutics in cell culture systems. After receiving his PhD, he started as a postdoc at IMC University of Applied Sciences Krems’ Institute Krems Bioanalytics. A native of the Waldviertel district of Lower Austria, he lives in Krems with his wife and newborn son.