Highlights from the 2019 Canadian Glycomics Symposium

Putting Canadian leadership in translational glycomics research on display

The 2019 Canadian Glycomics Symposium was held in Banff, Alberta during May 15-17.

By Ali Chou and Marie-Christine Houle

Two hundred scientists, industry partners, and international experts in glycomics research gathered in Banff on May 15-17 for the 4th edition of the Canadian Glycomics Conference. The conference was organized by GlycoNet, one of networks funded by Canada’s Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE). For the last 30 years, the NCE program has been funded by the Government of Canada to support large-scale, academic-led research networks, build research capacity and accelerate the creation of new knowledge in glycomics research.

“This meeting is a unique opportunity for the Canadian and international glycomics community to learn about advancements in the field. Together, researchers and industry leaders are finding inspirations in the work of others and creating collaborations to deliver concrete health solutions,” says Dr. Elizabeth Nanak, Executive Director of GlycoNet.


The next-generation of glycomics researchers, including undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, research associates, and technicians, engaged in peer learning about various disciplines related to glycoscience.

In addition, three workshops were offered exclusively to trainees the day before the Symposium. These workshops allowed trainees to build capacity and develop transferable skills that are important when pursuing a career in research, academia and beyond. Topics included leveraging social media to promote your research activities, being persuasive  and R programming language.


CBC Radio One columnist Dr. Torah Kachur kicked off the event with a keynote address encouraging researchers to put themselves, and their research, out into the public sphere. Kachur challenged attendees to find their voice and use it to promote their work with audiences outside of the scientific community. In an ultra-connected world, where people have information at their finger-tips, scientists have an important role to play in popularizing science by providing real expertise, and information.

“Are we learning science from the Big Bang Theory? No! But what the show does is demystify science,” said Kachur, who invited scientists present to, like the popular show, become advocates for science and research. She reminded those present that although the science is awesome and needs to be at the center, the story behind it, the why, the researchers’ motivations, are often what will resonate most with the public.

Over the course of the three-day event, Canadian, Australian and Taiwanese experts provided insights into ground-breaking glycomics research being done around the globe, particularly in Canada.


Attendees had a chance to hear newly-named Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) in glycomics Dr. Lara Mahal for the first time. She will be joining the University of Alberta in September. Mahal set out an ambitious agenda for her lab. She touched on her collaborative vision for the CERC, reminding her colleagues that collaboration is key to advance Canadian leadership in glycomics research and deliver positive health outcomes for patients in need.

As glycans – chains of sugars – cover every cell in our bodies, glycomics is gaining attention and recognition as a field of research that is central to a better understanding of human health and a motor for uncovering concrete solutions to a wide-range of health issues. Attendees had a chance to learn more about glycomics research being done by fellow scientists around the globe. Talks covered a wide-range of topics including:

  • Using sugars to develop vaccines for infections like flu and tuberculosis
  • Developing characterization technologies to understand the glycome
  • Building glycans on cell-surface to study sugars and their roles in disease mitigation
  • How degradation of sugars in the lungs is linked to pneumonia
  • The role of glycomics research in uncovering treatments to common and complex health issues in a post-antibiotic era
  • Unmasking the functions of sugars in the onset of genetic diseases and cancer
  • And the list goes on

Six out of 25 trainees were selected by the Symposium organizing committee through a comprehensive screening process to give lightning talks — presenting their current research projects in three minutes using only three slides.

Over 90 scientists put their communications to the test by designing posters that detailed their latest research projects. From increasing the concentration of proteins known to stimulate brain development in children in formula, to gum health and its importance to overall human health, and intestinal-health in chickens, this cutting-edge science fair gave attendees a chance to discover how others are harnessing the power of glycomics.

Stay tuned over coming weeks for more highlights from the 2019 Canadian Glycomics Symposium. To view more Symposium photos and activities, click here.

All attendees at the 2019 Canadian Glycomics Symposium in Banff, Alberta during May 15-17. (Photo: GlycoNet)

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