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Student at Princeton University, daughter of Belizeans, Cassidy Humphreys creates chemical reaction that could help make drugs more affordable

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Posted: Friday, May 13, 2022. 3:17 pm CST.

Photo Credit: Princeton University

By Rubén Morales Iglesias: The daughter of Belizeans, Cassidy Humphreys, a science major at Princeton University in the United States, has created a chemical reaction that is faster, cheaper, and greener which could help make drugs more affordable, said an article by Princeton University.

“One way to make drugs more affordable is to make them cheaper to produce. For her senior thesis research, Cassidy Humphreys, a chemistry concentrator with a passion for medicine, took on the challenge of taking a century-old formula at the core of many modern medications — and improving it,” said the Princeton University News.

In writing her thesis research, Humphreys worked with David MacMillan, winner of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and Princeton’s James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Chemistry. Their work led her to try to improve the reaction for creating a carbon-nitrogen bond which was first done in 1906 by Fritz Ullmann and his wife Irma Goldberg.

The carbon-nitrogen bond is “a bond so vital to modern drug production that even though the reaction depends on high temperatures, long reaction times, harsh conditions, and expensive materials, the Ullmann-Goldberg method is still in use today” said the Princeton University News article.

According to the Princeton article, for the past 116 years, chemists have tried unsuccessfully to improve it.

“It’s a matter of taking chemistry we heavily rely on in everyday applications and trying to make it easier, cheaper, more green,” Humphreys told Princeton University News.

“My thesis is a twist on a classic chemical reaction, taking some ‘old chemistry’ that’s in a lot of medicines. Any way that it could be made more efficient, more effective or cheaper can make a real difference.”

MacMillan explained that their lab uses the energy of visible light to activate molecules in ways that they couldn’t be activated before and that Humphreys took the two molecules and was able to get them to react by using light instead of heat.

“It’s fundamental. It’s novel. It’s new. And it’s also a case where people in the outside world will be able to start utilizing it pretty quickly,” he said.

Though in the lab tests she and her partners were able to get the two molecules to react and produce a ‘yield’ of up to 83%, the average was 43%, so it was not worthy enough “for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, but more than enough to demonstrate that this is a reaction with real promise” said Princeton University News.

In the article, Humphreys talked about what it was like going to Princeton, an Ivy League university, as a Black and Latinx person with a Belizean background, as both her parents, Zinda Humphreys nee Garcia and Leyvan Humphreys, are are from Belize. She said she is the first generation in her family to be born in the United States and the first to go to college.

“That ties back to my culture, to Belize,” she said. “I feel like ‘first generation’ really encompasses my parents’ journey, how hard they’ve worked to be here, and also how hard I’ve worked to overcome barriers to get to the place where I am today.”

Humphreys credits her mom, who pushed her, for going to Princeton and becoming successful.

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