The Martin Lab

Current Research

Research in the Martin lab focuses on the development of new catalytic transformations, novel strategies for bond activation and the synthesis of bioactive molecules for the study and treatment of human disease. We find inspiration both through the identification of bioactive natural product targets and through consideration of larger problems where organic chemistry is poised to offer practical solutions (e.g. depolymerization and selective functionalization of biomass). Our goal is to provide reaction platforms that are both practical and sustainable and to work with groups specialized in biological and biochemical fields to investigate the causes and prevention of diseases such as cancer and neurodegeneration.
photochem hood

Sustainable Catalysis

Converting abundant, renewable feedstocks into valuable chemical building blocks is an important goal to improve the sustainability of the global chemical enterprise. As we transition from petroleum sources to renewable sources such as plant biomass, the need arises for efficient strategies to manipulate and functionalize highly oxygenated feedstocks such as sugars, lignin and lignocellulose, as well as modify hydroxylated natural products more generally. We are developing novel methods for the reductive functionalization, redox-neutral cross coupling and catalytic deoxygenation of alcohols. We have reported a cobalt-mediated strategy for the carbonylation/decarboxylation of benzylic alcohols (link). We are investigating this strategy as a photocatalytic method for the activation of C–O bonds in alcohols to allow the efficient formation of alkyl radicals for both deoxygenation and C–C bond formation. We use a variety of light sources to provide visible light irradiation to our reactions, ranging from simple CFL bulbs to LEDs including the high intensity Kessil PR160 series of blue LED lamps. Selecting the right wavelength for each photocatalyst system can improve reaction rates and product yields. This research is supported by a CAREER grant from the NSF (CHE-1751687).

We are also investigating the use of H-atom transfer (HAT) in activating C–H bonds for functionalization of a variety of hydrocarbons and simple molecules. We have developed a visible light-mediated method for the direct alkylation of diamondoids such as adamantane and diamantane that proceeds with a unique selectivity profile (link). The direct substitution of various substituted adamantanes and drug derivatives occurs at the strongest C–H bond in the presence of a variety of common functional groups, including electronically activating N- and O-derivatives. This work was highlighted in 2019 (link) and was more recently expanded to aminoalkylation to access N-substituted derivatives with antiviral properties (link). Ongoing research aims to understand the underlying mechanistic principles and develop new strategies for site-selective C–H functionalization reactions. This research is supported by a MIRA grant from the NIH (link).

Design and Synthesis of Bioactive Molecules

Another major focus of the lab is the exploration of general approaches to families of natural products where promising biological activity has been reported, in particular in the areas of neuroprotection and non-oncogene addiction. We have reported a Heck-based strategy for the synthesis of anacardic and ginkgolic acids and unnatural analogs, which are known inhibitors of both MMP and SUMOylation enzymes (MMP, SUMO). In collaboration with Dr. Jeff Perry in the Department of Biochemistry at UCR, we have used docking studies to design novel enzyme inhibitors and then synthesize and test them in binding and biochemical assays. We are also developing synthetic strategies to neuroprotective natural products to provide probe molecules and investigate their mechanism of action. In collaboration with other researchers in the Iowa Neuroscience Institute (INI), we are testing natural products and small molecule analogs for neuroprotective activity. The ultimate goal is to provide molecular tools for the investigation of neurodegenerative processes and structure-activity relationship data for the development of neuroprotective small molecules as drugs for the treatment of neurodegenerative disease. This research is supported by a MIRA grant from the NIH (link).
SumoAA SumoE1

Targets of Interest


Funding Sources


National Science Foundation CAREER Award – Catalysis CHE-1751687


National Institutes of Health MIRA Award R35-GM138050


UC Riverside College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences


Doctoral New Investigator Grant
Petroleum Research Fund
American Chemical Society

University of California

UC Cancer Research Coordinating Committee (2018)