Nobel Prize in Chemistry shines light on glycomics

Posted: October 14, 2022

Congratulations to Drs. Carolyn Bertozzi and Morten Meldal whose groundbreaking work has opened doors in glycomics innovation.

GlycoNet would like to congratulate renowned glycomics researchers Drs. Carolyn Bertozzi, Stanford University, and Morten Meldal, University of Copenhagen, on being awarded the 2022 Nobel Prize in Chemistry by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Together, they share the prize with Dr. K. Barry Sharpless, The Scripps Research Institute.

Dr. Bertozzi received recognition for her pioneering work in bioorthogonal chemistry, which allows researchers to chemically modify molecules in living systems without interfering with normal cell functions. Her award-winning research has broken scientific barriers and further catapulted glycomics-focused science forward, translating to innovative solutions for critical health issues such as cancer and infectious diseases.

Dr. Bertozzi’s foundational work in biorthogonal chemistry stemmed from an interest in sugars (also called glycans), which are important “building blocks” in biology. At the time she began her career, glycans were quite difficult to study and Dr. Bertozzi dedicated several years to studying the structure and function of glycans, laying the groundwork for glycomics innovation to grow. Essential to Dr. Bertozzi’s success, her passion for glycoscience spurred her discovery of various methods to visualize glycans inside living organisms. 

Dr. Meldal’s work in click chemistry—enabling molecular building blocks to “click” together quickly and efficiently—was also foundational and provided a starting point for Dr. Bertozzi to build from. Observing potential in a click reaction that Drs. Sharpless and Meldal discovered, called copper-catalyzed azide-alkyne cycloaddition, Dr. Bertozzi and her lab modified the reaction for use in living cells, enabling the undisruptive tracking of glycan activity in cells over a period of time.

As a result of her transformative research, Dr. Bertozzi started a number of successful glycoscience-focused companies, further proving the immense commercialization potential of glycomics research. Her greatest impact, however, continues to be her far-reaching influence in fostering new glycoscience discoveries by passing on her invaluable inspiration and expertise to the next generations of glyco-scientists.

GlycoNet is fortunate to have several glyco-scientists who trained with Dr. Bertozzi, including Dr. Lara Mahal, Canada Excellence Research Chair at the University of Alberta, Dr. David Vocadlo, Canada Research Chair in Chemical Biology at Simon Fraser university, Dr. Simon Wisnovsky at the University of British Columbia, and GlycoNet Board member Dr. David Rabuka. Additionally, GlycoNet’s founding Scientific Director Dr. Todd Lowary, Professor Emeritus at the University of Alberta, trained with Dr. Meldal.

Pioneers like Drs. Bertozzi and Meldal have raised the profile of glycoscience and paved the way for organizations such as ours to advance important research that has resulted in tremendous health and economic impacts, making Canada a top global leader in this field. To date, GlycoNet has mobilized over 180 interdisciplinary research groups and 160 partners from academia and industry to advance glycomics research and commercialization in Canada.

GlycoNet is grateful for Drs. Bertozzi and Meldal’s work, and their acclaimed contributions in this field further demonstrate the critical role glycomics plays in the health and well-being of the world as a whole.

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