A Passion for Biochemistry Inspires UK Researcher's Quest to Discover New Antibiotics
As a college student, Steven Van Lanen discovered his passion for biochemistry. Since graduate school, he has been applying that passion to the pursuit of nature’s unanswered questions.
“After becoming a researcher, I looked back at my biochemistry textbook and realized that it’s just the beginning,” Van Lanen said. “There’s so much we still don’t understand.”
Now, as an associate professor in the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy, Van Lanen seeks to discover new antibiotics in effort to combat the ever-increasing problem of antibiotic resistance. Specifically, he’s looking for antibiotics that kill microbes in a distinct way compared with those currently used in the clinic.
“There are specific mechanisms that lead to antibiotic resistance,” Van Lanen said. “If we can find an antibiotic with a new mode of action, it reduces the chances that a microbe will be resistant to that antibiotic.”
With a growing research lab, Van Lanen also finds plenty of opportunities to do a second thing he enjoys: guiding students along their individualized paths of professional development.
“I understand that each student will develop at a different pace,” Van Lanen said. “But, aside from our one-on-one meetings, I try to be pretty hands-off. I want them to feel the excitement I get when I find the solution to a problem on my own.”
Van Lanen is now in his ninth year at UK. He commends the university for welcoming new researchers into its supportive environment.
“UK is a great place to get your own research lab started,” Van Lanen said. “The College of Pharmacy in particular has a great support system for junior faculty. And you can do anything at UK that you can do anywhere else in the world. Everything you need to do top-notch research is here.”