8 April 2015

Putting the “fun” back into fundamental science

Chemistry staff

Medicinal chemist Jan Kehler is fascinated by signaling processes in the human brain. So much so, that his fascination has propelled him through his 16-year-career as a senior researcher at Lundbeck, a specialist in pharmaceuticals that target the central nervous system. His accomplishments and experience now come to the Department of Chemistry, where he has just been named an affiliate professor.

From dreams of teaching high school to developing medications

Kehler meant to become a high school teacher. He began his BSc as a biochemist, but an encounter with organic chemistry caused him to divert that trajectory. It opened up the possibility of studying how molecules can activate or block processes in humans. In the end, he earned his MSc from UCPH in bioorganic chemistry. His PhD studies were devoted to investigating how phosphorous controls cerebral signaling processes. And ever since obtaining his doctorate, he has worked to develop pharmaceuticals that target psychiatric disorders.

Ensuring a stronger specialization in medicinal chemistry

Kehler hopes that his new post at the Department of Chemistry will contribute to making the department’s medicinal chemistry programme one of the very finest. He will be able to do so through his guest lectures and by sharing his insights about what knowledge and which techniques are sought after by the pharmaceuticals industry. UCPH will not be alone in gaining from the new partnership though.

“In the years ahead, research in our field will become so difficult and resource demanding that we will not be able to shoulder the burden on our own. Lundbeck needs to enter into partnerships with universities around the world. Joint research is already conducted between Lundbeck and UCPH’s Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences (SUND), and I hope that in time there will be joint research conducted with the Department of Chemistry. This could be in relation to master’s thesis and PhD projects. It also makes Lundbeck a more visible and attractive place to work,” according to Kehler.

Brain enhancement, altered consciousnes and man-macine interfaces

While Kehler gets paid to develop promising new drugs, he also has personal and private interests that come across as a bit more playful in nature. He wants to study brain function enhancing substances, understand the linkage between chemistry, the psyche and altered consciousness and use this knowledge in a therapeutic manner; develop external memory for the human brain and overall find out how humans and machines can be connected via the nervous system.

Ambitious mulititalents sought for research projects

To find students to participate in these investigations, he on the lookout for an ambitious cocktail of academic excellence, social competency and creativity.

“A researcher ought to be able to build relations across cultures and borders, and simultaneously generate new ideas, develop them and then sort them. One should have a desire to seek problems and be willing to solve them. I think that one can go far if they have a creative and playful approach, as opposed to sticking to a formula,” says Kehler, who understands and accepts that he is putting up some hefty requirements: “but in my own time as a student, this was engrained within the UCPH culture. And I’m certain that it still is.”

Jan Kehler, 50, has just celebrated his silver wedding anniversary with his wife Inga Bjørnsdottir, a pharmacist. They have 4 children.