Martin Burke: The smart synthesizer

Credit: © Nick Burchell" /> Credit: © Nick Burchell In November 1998, Martin Burke was on his first clinical rotation in the MD/PhD program at Harvard Medical School when he met a 22-year-old cystic fibrosis patient who was taking 17 different medications. Knowing that a single missing chloride channel causes the disease, it bothered Burke that the treatment comprised such a large cocktai

Elie Dolgin
Jul 1, 2008
<figcaption> Credit: © Nick Burchell</figcaption>
Credit: © Nick Burchell

In November 1998, Martin Burke was on his first clinical rotation in the MD/PhD program at Harvard Medical School when he met a 22-year-old cystic fibrosis patient who was taking 17 different medications. Knowing that a single missing chloride channel causes the disease, it bothered Burke that the treatment comprised such a large cocktail of drugs. It struck him immediately that science might be able to replace the missing ion channel in the same way that a prosthetic limb replaces a lost leg. "I wanted to develop prostheses on the molecular scale," he says.

As far back as Burke can remember, he wanted to become either a major league baseball player or a doctor. Unfortunately, baseball didn't pan out. So, as an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins University in 1994, he enrolled in pre-med courses, including an introductory organic chemistry class that would change his life. There,...

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