Research Themes

GlycoNet’s research program is comprised of five synergistic themes that relate to human health. Please click here for a full list of current projects.

Antimicrobials

Developing new antimicrobials to fight fungal and bacterial infections

Resistance to antimicrobials has shot up in the last decade and development of new antimicrobials continues to drop. Many, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, predict that we stand on the brink of a post-antibiotic era and that we will soon lack the necessary tools to treat bacterial and fungal infections. The Canadian Foundation for Infectious Disease estimates the annual cost for treatment and lost productivity due to infectious diseases to be in excess of $12 billion in Canada alone. The continuing rise in antimicrobial resistance highlights an urgent and ongoing need not only to identify and validate new drug targets, but also to develop novel antimicrobial drugs against these targets. Carbohydrates play vital roles in many fungal and bacterial virulence processes. They are critical components of the cell wall—an antimicrobial target that is absent from human cells—and are key elements in adherence, immune evasion, and antimicrobial resistance. Research in the field of glycomics has already validated attractive drug targets and we are poised to make further significant contributions in developing novel antimicrobial agents.

Rare Genetic Diseases

Developing novel treatments for rare genetic diseases

Glycomics presents an opportunity to develop novel treatments for rare genetic diseases that arise from deficiencies in sugar metabolism, such as Gaucher’s disease and Fabry’s disease. Understanding the biochemical and molecular basis of single gene disorders has led to therapeutic strategies for rare diseases and a realization that the development of many common disorders involves altered glycosylation pathways. Developing therapies for rare diseases thus potentially impacts common disorders.

Diabetes and Obesity

Treating nutritional disorders, obesity, and related illnesses

Most human energy and nutrition supply comes from breaking down carbohydrates. Glucose released by these processes is critical for human development, particularly the brain, and for maintaining health. Many serious clinical conditions can be traced to or be treated by regulating this glucose release, such as diabetes, nutritional disorders, and certain types of obesity. This theme investigates the major mechanisms in the human breakdown of nutritional carbohydrates, by host human enzymes and those from the resident microbiome. These enzyme systems together are thought to be chiefly responsible for the metabolic activity that forms glycogen – energy stores – from nutritional sources. Regulating their activities offers a means to treat associated clinical conditions.

Chronic Diseases

Developing new therapies for a variety of chronic diseases

For decades we have known that an enzymatic process called glycosylation is abnormal in cancerous cells and other diseased human tissues, yet therapeutic strategies addressing this biochemical change have remained elusive. An attempt to modify the glycosylation process has become a new target for therapeutics. This theme will address a range of targets for human health by applying knowledge gained in glycomics over the last decade, with the aim to bridge the gap between fundamental advances and therapeutic applications in cancer, inflammation, and cardiovascular disease.

Therapeutic Proteins and Vaccines

Providing more effective therapeutic proteins for treatment of a host of conditions

Glycoconjugates – glycans linked with proteins, lipids, or other molecules – are a crucial component of many therapeutics, including protein-based drugs and vaccines targeting microbial pathogens. The innate immune system detects proteins and pathogens via their non-host surface glycans, leading to the activation of an immune response and a clearance of these molecules from the body. In this theme we will advance approaches in this area to develop new therapeutic proteins and vaccines for a host of conditions.