Heberle: That’s correct. Many of these membrane proteins are not yet well understood in their functions and dynamics. This is why we also don’t know why certain pharmaceuticals bond especially well while others bind barely at all – there are still no answers to these questions. The infrared microscope could definitely make a significant contribution in finding these answers.
COMPAMED.de: How important is interdisciplinary collaboration to you?
Heberle: The method that my colleague Rainer Hillenbrand from San Sebastian developed, introduced a procedure from solid-state physics into biophysics or biomedicine, respectively. This shows already how important interdisciplinarity is. The samples that we are testing come from the field of molecular biology or biomedicine. There is interdisciplinary collaboration with cell biology labs that provide cancer cells or slices from brains of rats or mice affected by Alzheimer’s disease for example. So the questions stem from biomedicine, the technology comes from the field of physics and as far as the functioning mechanisms are concerned, chemical or biochemical knowledge is often required.
COMPAMED.de: In which direction would you like to further develop this device?
Heberle: On the one hand, we would still like to achieve a higher lateral resolution for this device, meaning beyond 30 nanometers. After all, many proteins are barely five to ten nanometers in size. On the other hand, we would of course like to be able to study proteins in a water environment. We are currently still in the development stage for this. This is not easy, because water strongly absorbs the infrared radiation of the microscope. However, water is precisely what determines the structure of a biological cell. This means, we have to adapt the measurement method accordingly. However, I am confident that this will work in the near future.