Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo


Now Available: Innovators Under 35 2013 See The 2013 List »

Credit: Pulin Wang

Martin Burke, 32

Molecular diversity

University of Illinois

PROBLEM: Of the thousands of drugs used to treat disease, most are small molecules--organic compounds that bind with proteins and influence their activity. But researchers must screen many compounds to find potential drugs, and the large number of chemical reactions needed to synthesize any one compound makes the process slow and painstaking.

SOLUTION: Martin Burke, an assistant professor of chemistry, has figured out a way to simply and quickly generate diverse arrays of small mole­cules by repeatedly using a single reaction to join different organic components. He begins by turning a wide variety of organic molecules into standardized building blocks, each of which has a boronic acid on one end and a halide, such as bromide, on the other. In a test tube, the two ends react to link molecules with a carbon-carbon bond. Burke's key advance is a way to reversibly obstruct the boronic-acid end, so that chemists can sequentially couple different molecules.

Burke is partnering with a major chemical company to release a set of premade building blocks. Ultimately, he hopes that the ability to quickly c­reate large collections of compounds will help him find highly complex small molecules that can imitate the structure of proteins that mal­function in diseases such as cystic fibrosis. Such "molecular prosthetics" could provide new treatments for a whole array of diseases, saving lives. --Lissa Harris

2008 TR35 Winners

Martin Burke

Molecular diversity

Christopher Chang

Probing chemical reactions in the body

Michelle Chang

Designing microbes to make fuels and drugs

Donhee Ham

Portable nuclear magnetic resonance

Konrad Hochedlinger (video)

Turning adult cells into stem cells

Milica Radisic

Patching damaged hearts

Bilal Shafi (video)

Preventing congestive heart failure

Joo Chuan Tong

My vision: Personalized vaccines


More Innovators Under 35: