NIH/NIGMS Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award

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Professor Alexander Spokoyny has received a highly prestigious Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA or R35) award from the NIH/NIGMS.

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), part of the National Institutes of Health, has awarded Spokoyny, an assistant professor of chemistry, $1.8 million over five years to work on atomically-precise nanomaterials.

The MIRA program supports investigators’ overall research programs through a single, unified grant rather than individual project grants. The goal is to provide investigators with greater stability and flexibility, thereby enhancing scientific productivity and the chances for important breakthroughs. 


Boron cluster decorated with sugars exhibiting a multivalent binding enhancement towards a protein surface

“Nature can assemble topologically complex biomacromolecules that are routinely used for very selective recognition in living systems,” said Spokoyny. “The ability to create well-defined hybrid nanomaterials that can mimic these interactions can lead to the development of powerful research tools to probe biologically-relevant processes and ultimately allow to formulate complex therapeutics and diagnostic agents to combat diseases”. The Spokoyny group effort can be characterized as a “nanoparticle total synthesis”, where they are utilizing a bottom-up approach for the synthesis of large hybrid molecules using atomically precise 3D inorganic clusters as rigid templates. Ultimately, their work will help to promote a thorough understanding of the design rules governing interactions between hybrid nanomaterials and biomolecules and elucidate the dominant factors that enhance specific inhibition of complex biomolecular targets. The work is highly interdisciplinary and combines the effort from undergraduate, Ph.D. and post-doctoral researchers working across the fields spanning synthetic inorganic and organic chemistry, chemical biology and materials science. The ultimate goal of the project is to provide researchers with well-defined programmable nanosystems featuring unique capabilities for binding and sensing complex biomolecules.

A native of Russia, Spokoyny immigrated with his family to the United States in 2001. He received a B.S. in chemistry at UCLA in 2006, where was an undergraduate researcher in the laboratory of Prof. Frederick Hawthorne.  In 2011, he received his Ph.D. in organic chemistry at Northwestern under the guidance of Prof. Chad Mirkin. Spokoyny went on to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he was an NIH Post-Doctoral Fellow in the laboratories of Profs. Stephen Buchwald and Bradley Pentelute.

He joined the UCLA chemistry and biochemistry faculty in 2014 as an assistant professor. In 2016, he was named one of Chemical and Engineering News (C&EN) “Talented 12” which highlights young investigators who are doing groundbreaking work in the field. He also received the 3M Non-Tenured Faculty Award and an American Chemistry Society (ACS) New Investigator grant that year. In February 2017, Spokoyny was awarded a 2017 Sloan Fellowship by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

To learn more about Spokoyny’s research, visit his group website.