Pharmaceutical chemists have a trick when they’re designing a drug and want to make it easier for the body to take up without metabolic side effects: they might add a quaternary center—a carbon atom bonded to four other carbon atoms. The trouble is, such centers are often extremely hard to synthesize.

A new study by University of Chicago chemists, however, offers a new approach that could significantly cut the time and effort needed to make such molecules, particularly for those that contain several such centers. Published April 25 in Nature, the breakthrough cuts the number of steps needed to make a molecule rich in quaternary centers in half.

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