Organic chemistry is an ordeal.

Just ask most science majors. There are the bewildering names of molecules, the elements, bonds, reactions, and reagents. There are the recipes, lab work, and late nights hovering over flasks. There are the separations, purifications, and analysis. Even for experts, making molecules is slow, painstaking work. “We think we can change that,” says Martin Burke, a chemist at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. And to drive the point home, he offers to transform a chemistry neophyte—me—into a synthetic chemist.” 

– Robert F. Service, Science Magazine

Human diseases caused by an excess of protein function can often be treated effectively using small molecules that bind to the offending proteins and turn them off. In contrast, diseases caused by protein deficiencies are generally refractory to this approach, and thus most of these diseases remain incurable with modern medicine. The Burke group therefore aims to advance the frontiers of pharmacology towards molecular prosthetics, i.e., functional small molecules that serve as substitutes for missing or dysfunctional proteins that underlie currently incurable human diseases. 

In this context, our research focuses on the synthesis and study of small molecules with protein-like functions.To enable these studies, we are developing new strategies and methods with the goal of making the process of complex small molecule synthesis as simple, efficient, and flexible as possible. We further aim to harness the power of this chemistry to illuminate the fundamental underpinnings of higher-order small molecule function in atomistic detail. Collectively, these efforts seek to make possible the development of molecular prosthetics as a general strategy for the understanding and betterment of human health.