Carbon-heteroatom bond reactions are fundamental in making many everyday items, from computers and cars to drugs and clothing. Oleg Larionov wants to replace the expensive and toxic reagents that catalyze these reactions with more sustainable and less expensive approaches.
“My motivation is looking to solve global problems at a fundamental level,” he said. “There is no one solution, and we’ve made progress on a number of promising approaches.”
His research program merges catalysis, organoboron chemistry, photochemistry, synthesis of bioactive natural products and heterocyclic chemistry with the goal of developing new reactions, catalytic platforms and synthetic strategies that rapidly build up structural complexity with predictable regio- and stereo-control.
In one focus area, Dr. Larionov has replaced the precious metals typically used as catalysts with energy from visible light to create previously unknown chemical reactions. Research in this field could lead to more efficient synthetic methods and expedite the discovery and development of new drugs to treat cancer and neurodegenerative and infectious diseases.
He also is experimenting with reactions that don’t require additional inputs of either energy or catalysts by identifying new ways compounds can react with each other. His team is working to develop innovative synthesis methods, focusing on organic substances that contain sulfur. These compounds play a critical role in drug discovery and materials science and Dr. Larionov and his team have successfully created a framework for chemists to produce organosulfur compounds more efficiently and with less chemical waste.
His team complements experimental research with computational studies using supercomputers to explore potential reactions and identify molecules to target. This has allowed the lab to identify important biological activity and set the stage for more efficient methods of delivering drugs to complex targets. For example, he has synthesized plant-based compounds that can lead to the development of new cancer treatments, antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs.
“There are so many ways to use this new chemistry,” Dr. Larionov said. “We are just scratching the surface of discovering new reactions. And we can apply this approach to many other heteroatoms, such as oxygen, nitrogen, silicon and many others.”
He credits The Welch Foundation for helping jump start his research program.
“Welch was very instrumental in launching this program when I first came to UTSA in 2010,” he said. “The Foundation provided my first funding and its continuous support has been extremely helpful in maintaining and developing the program into the broad research front we have now.”