The award for the best Master’s thesis in the nanosciences in 2015 goes to Andreas Reichmuth

andreasAt the next SNI Annual Event in Lenzerheide in September, Andreas Reichmuth will receive the prize for the best Master’s thesis in nanosciences of the University of Basel. The 26-year-old Swiss national completed his degree in nanosciences in Basel, but wrote his Master’s thesis at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In his thesis, he examined nanoparticles that could be used for gene therapy and immunotherapy to treat cancer.

High school research project in Basel
Andreas Reichmuth, who grew up in Emmen, was already reading about nanotechnology and showing an interest in phenomena such as the lotus effect while still at school. So it made sense for him to write his high school research project about a subject in the field of nanotechnology. His project looked at graphite under a scanning tunneling microscope in Professor Ernst Meyer’s team and gave him his first taste of university. He seems to have enjoyed it, as he was one of the new students in nanosciences in the fall semester of 2010. “The degree course in Basel was really cool,” Andreas recalls. “You heard something in physics, then something in chemistry or biology, and suddenly the connection was clear. I did have a bit more pressure than some of my colleagues who had opted for a job, but I’d do it again any time!” comments Andreas Reichmuth on his decision to study nanosciences.

Issues in life sciences
Andreas Reichmuth enjoyed the broad spectrum of the degree course as well as the opportunity to work at different institutions. “The block courses, for example, didn’t go into depth in any field, but I was able to get a feeling for whether I liked something or not.” During his studies, it became increasingly apparent to him that he wanted to use what he had learnt and the technologies available in order to solve problems in life sciences. However, it also seemed to make sense for him to focus on physics first to enable him to apply these basic principles when dealing with issues in biology or medicine, too.

It also became clear to him that he wanted to use his Master’s thesis for a period of study abroad. He therefore sent one application after another to various professors – often without ever receiving a reply. “Today, I would approach the postdocs straight away,” he says, commenting on his experience. Drawing on the network of his former colleague from Basel, Dr. Kaspar Renggli, he finally succeeded in securing a project on nanoparticles at MIT, which Professor Wolfgang Meier then supervised from Basel. “It was fantastic to learn that I was able to cope well, even when studying at such a renowned institute,” Andreas Reichmuth remarks. In addition to the academic work, Andreas Reichmuth enjoyed the openness of the people but also noticed that life was far more competitive and that people’s standards of living in the USA are much more strongly linked to their salary than is the case at home in Switzerland.

Nanoparticles for gene therapy
At MIT, Andreas Reichmuth spent a year working in the laboratory of the successful professor and entrepreneur Robert Langer. He studied the use of nanoparticles in gene therapy or immunotherapy to treat cancer. The idea behind the method he studied is to teach the immune system to recognize a tumor and to render it harmless.

Andreas Reichmuth first produced lipid nanoparticles. He filled these nanoparticles with messenger RNA (mRNA) containing the information required to produce particular tumor proteins. He injected the loaded nanoparticles into mice. He was able to detect a strong cytotoxic immune response by T lymphocytes in the mouse model 6-8 days after the injection. This response was directed against the tumor cells and lasted several weeks. Andreas Reichmuth’s research was successful: he was able to demonstrate the viability of inducing the immune system to produce an immune response against cancer cells in the mouse model. A rapid immune response to viruses in the body also seems theoretically possible using this method.

Focus on new markers
In the meantime, Andreas Reichmuth has returned to Switzerland and in January 2016, he began his doctoral studies in the Laboratory of Biosensors and Bioelectronics at the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich. He has remained true to himself and continues to try to apply his knowledge of physics, chemistry, and biology in combination. In his current work, however, he is not investigating any new therapies but is searching for markers that make it possible to detect cancer at a much earlier stage. “A tumor is supplied with blood, otherwise it cannot grow. So metabolic products, contents or fragments of the tumor cells will also inevitably be found in the bloodstream – and that’s what I want to detect and prove,” he says, explaining his approach. The research is still at an early stage but Andreas Reichmuth is optimistic that this project, too, will be successful.