‘The least I owe them is a big party’

Fourteen talented scientists at the University of Groningen and the UMCG have each received a VENI grant of up to €250,000 from scientific research backer NWO. Biophysicist Manuel Nuno Melo (30) examines how different drugs interact with cell membranes.

What was the first thing you did when you were awarded the grant?

‘The absolutely first thing I did when I received the acceptance e-mail was to smile widely. Not only was it wonderful news, but I also received it while I was on holiday. I then began to slowly spread the news to my family, friends and colleagues; their help was fundamental to the success of my application, so the least I owe them is a big party.’

veni 7 manuel

What is your research about?

‘Broadly speaking, I study how different drugs interact with cell membranes. I do this by using computer simulations. That way I can see molecular processes taking place in more detail than with any other experimental technique.’

Why is it so interesting?

‘The cell membrane is involved in much more than just surrounding the inside of the cell. From a drug perspective, the membrane is a barrier that must be crossed or, alternatively, a target that must be destroyed. I get to study the similarities and differences between these crucial events. Furthermore, with computer simulations I can really see how life – the formation of a membrane, for example – emerges from simple chemical interactions between molecules. The fact that these molecules are lifeless on their own makes it even more fascinating!

In about three years I will have discovered…

‘In about three years I will have understood why there are certain antibiotics that kill bacteria by breaking their membranes, whereas others that are very similar in nature act by first silently crossing the membrane and only then attacking its internal structure. With this knowledge I’ll be able to improve different drugs by enabling them either to disrupt or cross membranes. This may even be applicable to a wider range of molecules besides antibiotics, such as anti-cancer drugs.’

Why are you a scientist and not, for example, an entrepreneur?

‘I am driven by the challenge of solving scientific problems and by the excitement of being part of a community that constantly pushes back the frontiers of human knowledge. I don’t believe I can fulfil these aims in any other job.’

RUG Veni’s

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