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Chemistry of Life and Molecular Medicine

Medical, life science and chemical biology research at Stanford is driven by integrated, multi-science, translational research that has given rise to and contributes to the ongoing success of Silicon Valley and its impact on biotechnology, computer science, energy science and green technology. Working side-by-side Stanford scientists are advancing research enabled by a diverse array of exceptional multidisciplinary centers, institutes, and training programs including Bio-X, ChEM-H, SLAC, the Neurosciences Institute, the Comprehensive Cancer program, Nano Center, Canary Center for Cancer Detection, and Biotechnology Training Program.

Collectively these collaborations focus on varied and significant translational opportunities, from how to harness a cell’s ability to make molecules (synthetic biology), to bioorthogonal sensors and imaging technologies that enable the study of normal cell function and diseases, and on to newly designed and synthesized molecules that enable drug delivery or serve as therapeutic leads to address unsolved medical problems.

Stanford chemists will continue to pioneer areas of translational chemical biology and molecular medicine that include:


  • Chemical neuroscience.  Stanford chemists are engineering molecules inspired by natural neurotoxins to study and modulate neuronal activity.  We also design nanostructured materials on which networks of neurons can be grown and interrogated.  New technology for drug delivery developed by our faculty are being directed to unmet needs in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, neuropathic pain and other neurological disorders.
  • Chemical microbiology.  Stanford chemists have developed new methods for analyzing the chemical and physical properties of bacterial biofilms and for imaging microbial structures at ultrahigh resolution.   Our ongoing work elucidating the mechanistic details underlying microbial natural product biosynthesis has already led to new therapeutic and diagnostic modalities.
  • Molecular imaging.  Stanford chemists are developing new tools, theories and analytical procedures that allow one to “see” molecular events in living systems in real time with atomic level resolution.
  • Cancer immune therapy.  Stanford chemists are making critical contributions toward new modalities of cancer immune therapy. We are developing small molecules, biotherapeutics, and hybrid bioconjugates that modulate tumor immunogenicity and immune cell activity.  These new approaches could be transformative in our treatment of previously intractable tumors.
  • Drug delivery.  Stanford chemists are developing new vectors to transport molecules including drugs, imaging agents, peptides, proteins, DNA, and RNA across biological barriers such as cell membranes, blood brain, ocular, skin and lung barriers. This includes the delivery of mRNA, opening new opportunities for therapeutic vaccinations, protein replacement therapy and gene editing.
  • New treatments for rare diseases and unmet medical needs.  Stanford chemists are taking on the difficult challenge of developing therapeutic approaches for rare diseases that strike small patient populations and are therefore largely neglected by the pharmaceutical industry.  These include new interventions for celiac disease as well as congenital disorders of proteostasis. At the same time, they are addressing unsolved problems such as the eradication of HIV/AIDS and treatments for a range of neurological disorders.
  • Molecular dynamics, systems chemistry and systems biology.  Stanford chemists are developing new computational tools and theories that allow atomistic dynamic simulations of complex chemical and biological systems that enable understanding of living systems with molecular level resolution. These approaches will make it increasingly possible to peer into and understand normal as well as abnormal cell function, to track the course of molecules in living systems, and to design new molecules to prevent, detect or treat disease.