Professor Fredrik Höök studies cell membrane mimics –
artificial variants of membranes that coat all cells. He and his team are now working on two particularly promising projects. One focuses on separating membrane proteins for identification of drug targets. The other focuses on viral infection – how virus particles and cell membranes interact when a virus crosses the membrane. Potentially, either could have an enormous impact on the development of new drugs and our ability to treat any number of diseases. Given five or ten years, Höök hopes much of what he and some of his younger colleagues are now working on will contribute to modern science; rather like they did when he first came to Chalmers, before the field of biosensors was internationally recognised.
Knocking down the walls of research, innovation and education
Under the supervision of Professor Bengt Kasemo, Fredrik Höök’s PhD formed an important bridge between the departments of Biochemistry and Physics in the early nineties. In parallel to this, and inspired by the success of the Brånemark dental implant, Kasemo and Höök explored a mutual interest in the interaction between proteins and non-organic materials. Largely to pursue this, they exploited the Quartz Crystal Microbalance in the development of a new sensor technology based on the dissipation of an oscillating quartz crystal (QCM-D). This new method enabled them to probe films as thin as one nanometre or less. More importantly, it allowed them to measure the structure and viscoelastic properties of the surface molecules – essentially generating a fingerprint for each type of molecular system.
Patents were applied for and the breakthrough soon became the maiden project of Chalmers School of Entrepreneurship, where it was coached into commercialisation. The company, Q-Sense, was established together with two other key researchers at Chalmers, originally with clinical markets in mind. Fredrik Höök played a more limited role in this, but continued his research at the university becoming the company’s scientific collaborator.
After the first commercial instruments were developed, Q-Sense decided to target the research market through some of the world’s best universities in close collaboration with Fredrik Höök. In short, Höök’s involvement in all the groundbreaking QCM-D research helped him to develop an extensive international network, and to become one of the most cited young professors in his field. The Q-Sense instruments soon became the tool of every institute with an interest in surface chemistry, surface physics, surface biotechnology or bio-interfaces.
Hoping to repeat history with membrane mimics and his excellent young students, Fredrik Höök is happily sharing his unique experience – how a group of researchers can cross-fertilise study with commerce to achieve scientific progress. Furthermore, an entire community of researchers with potential to make a difference is now using his sensor technology: in tissue engineering where new organs are being developed; in the biosensor industry where diagnostic tools are being developed; in polymer science where drugs and new types of detergents are being developed; in corrosion; in biofouling and much more.