The University of Alberta is about to become a house of carbs. The university has a lead role in a new research network that explores how the sugar many Canadians seem to dread, and crave, bounces around your body.
The Canadian Glycomics Network, or GlycoNet, launched Friday, uniting 60 researchers from nearly two dozen post-secondary institutions across Canada. The $38-million initiative is largely funded by the Canadian government and will be hosted by the University Alberta, home to the Alberta Glycomics Centre.
What is glycomics?
Glycomics is the study of sugars — or carbohydrates — and how they function in the human body.
Think of the sugars in your body as a train, says Dr. David Bundle, founding director of the Alberta Glycomics Centre.
“Each car on the train is an individual sugar, and they’re joined together in very complex ways,” said Bundle. “Glycomics is understanding how those structures are recognized by the body. It’s also describing how those cars are joined together and how they can be broken apart.”
Researchers in the field of glycomics have contributed to developments in treatments for a vast number of diseases such as diabetes, leukemia, tuberculosis and hemophilia.
What is the purpose of GlycoNet?
GlycoNet’s launch cements a collaborative relationship between researchers and institutions across Canada, including the Alberta Glycomics Centre and Alberta Innovates Technology Futures.
“It’s really a mechanism for supporting collaborative research in the country,” said Dr. Todd Lowary, scientific director of GlycoNet. “We’re hoping we’ll be able to develop new therapeutic approaches to treat a variety of diseases: diabetes, infectious diseases. We’re hoping to develop new therapeutic proteins, things like monoclonal antibodies that can be used for treating cancer.”
The funding will support researchers who may have previously lacked resources.
“There’ll always be more projects proposed than there are funds to support,” said Bundle. “You can propose collaborations, but unless you have funding to pay for the salary of students and post-doctoral fellows, it can’t happen.”
How might students benefit from participating in GlycoNet research?
Students will be in a multidisciplinary environment, says Lowary. For example, through GlycoNet projects, chemists may find themselves working with immunologists or bacteriologists.
That multidisciplinary approach will be coupled with a focus on professional development opportunities,
“I can only imagine the collaborative and networking opportunities,” said Roger Ashmus, a PhD student studying in Lowary’s research group at the University of Alberta. “I hope to be part of it as a post-doctoral researcher in the not-so-distant future.”
The article is republished from The Edmonton Journal.