Alumni Spotlight: Dr. David Giljohann
David Giljohann

Brookfield East Class of 1999

Dr. David Giljohann is a 1999 graduate of Brookfield East and is the founding scientist and current CEO of Exicure that works on building targeted genetic medicines to impact human health.

Before becoming a proud Spartan, Dr. Giljohann attended Tonawanda Elementary and Pilgrim Park Middle School. "At each stage of my education, Elmbrook provided me the opportunity to participate in a diverse set of activities- providing the basis for a well-rounded education," he stated. "The teachers and administrators at Elmbrook have shown they cared- not only while I was a student in the district, but also with relationships and friendships that still continue today."

During his time at East, David actively participated in a number of clubs, sports and activities, including Swim Team, Interact Club, and Science Club. David's gratitude for the influence of his teachers is tremendous- highlighting Science teacher Sue Miller, Chemistry teacher Marina Kane, Biology teacher Dick Wood, Health instructor Kathy Drucke, and math instructor Mike Rose for their previous and continued importance in his lifelong learning journey. "All of these teachers were a caring and supportive network in and out of the classroom, and I am very grateful for the genuine interest and energy they have given me over the years," thanked Giljohann.

Following his BEHS graduation, David continued on to Northwestern University to complete his undergraduate degree in Biology with a Spanish minor. He then subsequently stayed at the university and earned his Ph.D. in Chemistry in 2009.

After completing his formal education, Dr. Giljohann worked with his Ph.D. advisor to license a technology entitled Spherical Nucleic Acid (SNA) and started up several companies to foster the commercialization of the technology. David became the founding scientist and the current CEO of Exicure in Chicago, where his team is currently translating their work with SNA to clinical trials.

"We build nanoparticles called Spherical Nucleic Acids that are DNA and RNA targeted to disease genes- they look like koosh balls made out of nucleic acids," said Dr. Giljohann. "Quite incredibly, these nano-scale particles can be designed to enter cells and tissues, and from there can turn off mis-regulated disease genes."

Dr. Giljohann has been recognized for his work with a Materials Research Society Gold Award, Baxter Innovation Award, Rappaport Award for Research Excellence, NSEC Outstanding Research Award, and as a finalist in the National Inventors Hall of Fame Collegiate Inventors Competition. He was also named to the Analytical Scientist's "Top 40 Under 40 Power List" in 2014. Dr. Giljohann has contributed to over 25 manuscripts and over 100 patents and applications.

Today David's family still lives in Elm Grove, and he enjoys coming home from Chicago to frequently visit.

You can see Dr. Giljohann's SNA in action in this video, and discover more about Exicure here and at

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