Sweet science in the spotlight at the 2023 Canadian Glycomics Symposium

Posted: June 5, 2023

Over 150 top researchers, industry experts, and emerging talent in glycomics recently gathered in Edmonton, Alberta to discuss advancements and the latest trends in glycomics.

Attendees at the 2023 Canadian Glycomics Symposium

On May 10–12, over 150 top researchers, industry experts, and up-and-coming talent in glycomics gathered at the heart of Edmonton, Alberta for the 2023 Canadian Glycomics Symposium. Highlighting the critical importance of sugars (glycans) and their impact on human, animal, and environmental health, the symposium offered a venue to explore the latest advancements, discuss emerging trends, and envision a future empowered by glycomics research.

Over three days, the symposium included 9 keynote presentations, 14 selected talks, 9 lightning talks, and 45 poster presentations—with representation from the U.S., Japan, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, and from across Canada. Presentations featured collaborative and translational glycomics research, covering topics that included the prevention, detection and treatment of a range of infectious diseases, cancer, and neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, the Clinical Partnership Workshop on the last day of the symposium provided a dedicated space for participants with a research and/or clinical background to discuss joint approaches to addressing major health challenges, including animal health and facilitating “bench to bedside” delivery of glycomics solutions to improve healthcare.

Unravelling the complexity of sugars

A major focus of the symposium was enabling participants to gain a deeper understanding of the complex nature of glycans. Presenters shared the latest findings on how these sugars play various roles in our bodies, including cell communication, immune response, and disease development. As an engaging conclusion to the first day of the symposium, our banquet keynote speaker Dr. James Paulson, Professor in Molecular Medicine at Scripps Research gave an interesting talk on exploiting Siglecs—carbohydrate-binding proteins—to suppress unwanted immune responses and illustrated a potential approach to treating allergies and autoimmune diseases.

The symposium also showcased how studying and using glycan structures can revolutionize disease diagnostics by serving as potential markers for detecting and monitoring different health conditions, as well as the crucial role of glycomics in drug development and personalized medicine. Glycomics additionally holds promise in developing vaccines that target glycan-mediated immune evasion by pathogens, enhancing our ability to combat infectious diseases. For example, glycosylation plays a central role in the development of mRNA medicines—which attendees learned about during the keynote presentation by Dr. Obadiah Plante, Senior Director of Bacteriology at Moderna.

Technological advances have been essential to improving our knowledge of glycans and continue to aid new discoveries. For instance, keynote speaker Dr. Jeff Gildersleeve, a Senior Investigator at the National Cancer Institute, presented on an innovative technology to better identify glycan-specific antibodies and their binding properties—knowledge that can be leveraged for a variety of research and clinical applications.

As more glycomics data becomes available, there is an increasing need for well-structured databases that can facilitate the application of artificial intelligence techniques, unlocking new potential in glycomics. Keynote speaker Dr. Frédérique Lisacek, head of the Proteome Informatics Group at the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, is one of the researchers collaborating to address challenges in managing big glycomics data. In her keynote talk, she highlighted steps needed to support the evolution of glycoinformatics and enhance the capabilities of glycomics in the era of systems biology.

“Glycomics is increasingly enhancing our understanding of biology and opening new doors to glycomics-based solutions that support One Health,” said Dr. Warren Wakarchuk, Scientific Director, GlycoNet. “There is still so much that we don’t know in this emerging field—it’s full of potential and this symposium is an incredibly valuable space to share advancements and inspire new discoveries.”

Bridging connections

Opportunities for networking and sharing ideas in this rapidly growing field are important for developing new collaborations that enable us to better tackle increasingly complex research questions.

“It’s exciting to meet so many researchers, clinicians and industry leaders all in one place,” said Dr. Elizabeth Nanak, CEO, GlycoNet. “Building connections is a huge part of what GlycoNet does as a nationwide network to foster new collaborations and support growing talent in glycomics. This exchange of ideas paves the way for translating glycomics discoveries into real-world applications, advancing biotechnology, and creating next-generation therapeutics.”

Keynote speaker Dr. David Vocadlo, co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Alectos Therapeutics, highlighted the value of partnerships with his talk on the essential role of preclinical research in advancing new glycomics-based medicines. A GlycoNet-supported start-up, Alectos Therapeutics is partnering with major pharmaceutical companies Merck and Biogen to translate foundational research into potential treatments for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Nurturing progress in glycomics

Collaboration and knowledge-sharing remain integral to advancing glycomics, as researchers in academia and industry continue to decipher the secrets of sugars. The 2023 Canadian Glycomics Symposium provided an informative, inspiring space to showcase remarkable strides made in glycomics, connect in person, and hear from our peers, partners, potential collaborators and clients.

Thank you to everyone who attended and supported this great event! Stay tuned for information on the 2024 Canadian Glycomics Symposium and we also look forward to hosting the 2024 Warren Workshop for Glycoanalytics in Canada.

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