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Out of hundreds of faculty across the California State University system, San Diego State University chemical biologist Jeffrey Gustafson (‘05) received the Faculty Research Award for his renowned work leveraging the shape of chemicals to find less harmful cancer drugs as well as his commitment to mentoring students. It’s the second straight year an SDSU professor has been honored with the award by the CSU Program for Education and Research in Biotechnology (CSUPERB). 

Gustafson was humbled and surprised by the recognition because SDSU biologist Marina Kalyuzhnaya won the award last year.

“When Marina won, I was like, ‘well-deserved; SDSU will come back around in five or six years,’” Gustafson said. Other previous SDSU recipients include professor emeritus Sandy Bernstein and Vice Provost Bill Tong.

“I would go to CSUPERB every year before the pandemic to hear these luminaries giving talks,” Gustafson said. “Being one of them is just really neat.”

At the annual CSUPERB symposium January 14, Gustafson gave a talk about his lab’s innovations with atropisomers, which are molecules with multiple possible rotational arrangements of chemical bonds, and the impact this phenomenon will have on the pharmaceutical industry.

Some atomic geometries, when used in cancer treatments for example, cause myriad unpleasant side effects. Others can target specific enzymes or reaction steps with minimal additional symptoms.

Gustafson and his students aim to tip the scales in favor of producing only the more beneficial chemical shape.

Gustafson said he will always feel indebted to CSUPERB, for a grant they awarded him back in 2017 that made these discoveries possible.

Gustafson regrets not attending CSUPERB as an undergraduate chemistry student at SDSU because of how valuable it has been for himself and his students. Presenting at CSUPERB has become somewhat of a rite of passage for the more than 70 students he has mentored since joining the faculty in 2013.

“I think CSUPERB is one of the most important organizations in the system,” he added. “It’s always been a community of chemists and biologists that they really bring together.”

The CSUPERB award selection committee was impressed with Gustafson’s research journal productivity with students as co-authors, and for being a recipient of two NSF awards and the NIH Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award for talented and promising investigators.

Echoing the committee, Ikhide Imumorin, executive director of CSUPERB expressed great admiration and appreciation for Gustafson’s great and important work at SDSU and his impact as one of the CSU’s outstanding biotechnology teacher-mentor-scholars.

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