Synthetic Organic Chemistry

Synthetic organic chemistry is a vital component of Boston University’s commitment to research and teaching in the life sciences.  The Department of Chemistry is now at the forefront of new methodologies in the synthesis of complex natural product molecules, macromolecules, stereochemistry, asymmetric synthesis, and catalysis.  The scientific creativity, exceptional productivity, and training excellence of our research groups are demonstrated by uninterrupted, large-scale grant support, numerous patents, and highly successful graduate students who have achieved leadership positions in academia, industry, and federal research agencies.

Core Faculty

Prof. Aaron Beeler

Aaron Beeler

Area: Medicinal chemistry, synthetic organic chemistry, microfluidics

The Beeler Research Group is truly multidisciplinary, combining organic chemistry, engineering, and biology to solve problems in medicinal chemistry. Focused medicinal chemistry projects utilize synthetic organic chemistry to address goals such as: a) developing a probe that may be utilized as a tool in biological studies; b) developing a lead molecule to facilitate future therapeutics; and c) utilizing small molecules to enhance understanding of biological targets. More broad impact research aims to develop new paradigms in medicinal chemistry through technology such as microfluidics. With this collaborative, multidisciplinary approach they are working to address significant problems in human health.

Mark Grinstaff

Area: Macromolecular, bioinorganic, and biological chemistry

The Grinstaff Group pursues highly interdisciplinary translational research in biological and macromolecular chemistry. Among their projects are novel dendrimers, “biodendrimers,” for tissue engineering and biotechnological applications (corneal lacerations, delivery of anti-cancer drugs and DNA, and biodegradable scaffolds for cartilage repair). They also create “interfacial biomaterials” that control biology on plastic, metal, and ceramic surfaces and electrochemical-based sensors/devices using conducting polymer nanostructures and specific DNA structural motifs.

Malika Jeffries-EL

Area: Synthetic organic, macromolecular, and materials chemistry

The Jeffries-EL group focuses on the synthesis of novel pi-conjugated materials and the investigation of structure-property relationships in these systems. These organic semiconductors are of technological importance impacting a variety of areas including energy, electronics and life sciences. Thus, research in the group is highly interdisciplinary combining elements of organic chemistry, theory and materials engineering.

Jim Panek

James Panek

Area: Stereocontrolled synthesis of complex organic molecules

The Panek Group focuses on the design and development of new methods for stereocontrolled synthesis of complex organic molecules. Once the scope of a methodology is determined, it is utilized in stereocontrolled synthesis of a natural product or a group of related natural product targets. These targets enable the preparation of chemical entities through diversity-oriented synthesis. The research goals are to enhance structural diversity available from Nature and to prepare molecules with novel chemical or biological properties. These studies are often carried out in conjunction with the CMLD-BU.

Professor John Porco

John Porco

Area: Chemical Synthesis of Complex Molecules for Translational Science

The Porco laboratory is developing novel synthetic methodologies for concise entry to bioactive complex molecules. In a main area of interest, biomimetic approaches to natural products are being pursued as a means to formulate biosynthetic hypotheses and invent new synthetic methodology to important synthetic targets. As part of our studies, we have taken opportunities to address key questions and contemporary needs in organic chemistry including asymmetric catalysis of photocycloadditions, enantioselective dearomatization, and atropselective synthesis. Our laboratory also has a growing interest in translational collaborations with biological investigators to identify bioactive molecules, the latter done in conjunction with the BU-CMD.

Scott Schaus

Scott Schaus

Area: Chemical methodologies, natural product synthesis, and chemical genomics

The Schaus Group focuses on new chemical methodologies, synthesizes natural products and small molecules with interesting biological activities, and uses chemical genomics techniques to study the effects of compounds on cellular processes. They use chemical synthesis, functional genomics, and bioinformatics to gain understanding of the effects of antiproliferative compounds on cellular processes. Exploiting the synergy among their research projects, they develop new asymmetric methodologies, which they apply to interesting natural products. They use and develop techniques in genomics and biology to understand how these compounds affect cellular processes. Their work in chemical methodology focuses on the development of direct asymmetric carbon-carbon bond-forming reactions. They have been studying the Morita-Baylis-Hillman (MBH) reaction, a long-standing challenge in asymmetric catalysis, concentrating on the phosphine-promoted reaction. They have successfully identified a highly enantioselective Brønsted-acid-catalyzed MBH reaction. The reaction not only addresses a gap in asymmetric synthetic methodology but also identified a unique example of chiral Brønsted acid catalysis.

Professor John Snyder

John Snyder

Area: Organic synthesis and natural products

The goals of the research of the Snyder Group are to discover new chemistry and delineate the potential applications of this chemistry to issues in health, agriculture, and other areas that society faces. They are highly motivated to explore new reactivities and apply them to diversity-oriented synthesis in the generation of relatively small libraries (100 compounds) that can then be submitted for biological screening to a variety of collaborators. On occasion, target-oriented projects will arise, particularly if the pursuit of that biologically significant target reveals unique applications of innovative chemistry, and can also lead to an intriguing collection of analogues for screening. The research efforts in the Snyder Group fall into four categories:  novel heterocyclic synthesis; Homo Diels-Alder Chemistry; chiral anthracene templates, and the chemistry of natural products.

Professor Arturo Vegas

Arturo Vegas

Areas: Organic synthesis, biological chemistry, and drug delivery

The Vegas group pursues general and systematic approaches to developing targeted therapeutic carriers for the treatment of multiple human diseases. Projects in the lab are focused on developing novel chemical tools, materials and approaches for targeting therapeutics to diseased tissues, with an emphasis on cancer and diabetes. For cancer, the primary focus will be developing conjugate and nanoparticle based approaches that control the physiological distribution and uptake of therapeutic molecules to tumors and use of materials to immunomodulate the tumor microenvironment. For diabetes, our focus will be selective destruction or functional blocking of cells responsible for the underlying type 1 autoimmunity.


Resources and Affiliations

Building on the legacy established by our NIH-funded national Center of Excellence in chemical diversity and library synthesis, the CMLD-BU has been transitioned into the Boston University Center for Molecular Discovery (BU-CMD).

The BU-CMD, directed by Dr. John Porco, seeks to discover, develop and enrich our understanding of small molecules that perturb biological systems. To reflect an expanded interdisciplinary focus, the BU-CMD encompasses Chemistry faculty in the areas of synthetic organic chemistry, biological chemistry and structural bioinformatics. The BU-CMD is also affiliated with dozens of researchers in various biomedical departments across the two Boston University campuses, supporting several compound screening and development programs. The overarching goals of the BU-CMD are to foster collaborative, therapeutically-driven research in small molecule discovery across scientific disciplines, and to enrich the translational research focus of Boston University.

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