“Suppose you have a pharmaceutical with some toxicity,” she continues. “It might be possible to completely change it by just switching a single bond. Traditionally, people had to go back ten, 20 or 30 steps of synthesis to introduce something new. Our chemistry allows you to take something close to the final product, and manipulate the bonds much more quickly, with much less waste, cost and manpower. You can turn it into a new group and make a new derivative of a drug that reduces the toxicity. It really streamlines the drug delivery process.”
Sanford says the MacArthur award came “totally out of the blue,” and she isn’t sure yet how she’s going to use the money. However, she expects to direct part of it toward finding less expensive metals for her experiments, as ruthenium is both rare and quite expensive. “We often are dependent on the willingness of the governments of other countries to share it with us,” she says.
Beyond her specific projects, “we really want to understand the fundamental aspects of how these catalysts work--not just whether they can make a drug, but structurally how they work,” she says. “Once you understand how they work, you can tailor them for other applications. We’re very focused on the structural details of these catalysts and how they operate on a molecular level. Once you understand this, it gives you the power to design all sorts of other new things that can spring from it.”
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