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Targeting Glycans

April 10, 2015

Understanding cells’ sugar coating could drive the development of new drugs and therapies.



Judging a cell by its cover. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Every cell on earth has a sugar coating—more scientifically, sugar-based compounds called glycans. Since every kind of cell has its own unique glycan coat, understanding them could be a key to identifying and targeting pathogens. University of Wisconsin, Madison biochemist Laura Kiessling discussed her work on glycans at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society.

LAURA KIESSLING (University of Wisconsin-Madison):

The glycan coat plays this very important role, not only reporting on what type of cell it is, but it can report on the metabolic state of that cell.


For example, cancer cells display very different glycans than do normal cells, providing a potential target for new cancer therapies. Kiessling’s team recently identified a human protein that recognizes the glycan coat of pathogenic microbes, and is using it to find and destroy the bacterium that causes tuberculosis. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.