The driving force behind Canada’s lead in glycomics: Todd Lowary nominated for award in outstanding leadership in science

By Jennifer Pascoe

An international leader in synthetic carbohydrate chemistry and the Canada Research Chair in carbohydrate chemistry, Todd Lowary is riding a well-deserved wave of success following the official opening of the Canadian Glycomics Network (GlycoNet), part of the federal Networks of Centre of Excellence. The latest honour in Lowary’s recent list of accolades is his nomination for an ASTech award for Outstanding Leadership in Science.

“It’s a tremendous honour,” says Lowary of the ASTech nomination. “Certainly many of the people I respect in my own department and across the province have been recognized with ASTech awards, so I think it’s very humbling to be considered in that group of individuals.”

Lowary’s work provides understanding of the processes bacteria use to interact with their environments. Of particular interest for fighting infection are the glycans – dense carbohydrates that cover the bacteria’s well-fortified cell walls—for the role they play in the cell’s defences and in their communication with their environments.

Glycans, or carbohydrates, are essential components of mycobacteria, a family of bacterium that includes the causative agents of leprosy and tuberculosis, which remain threats worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, tuberculosis is second only to HIV/AIDS as the greatest killer worldwide due to a single infections agent, affecting millions of people each year.

Lowary’s pioneering contributions have combined chemical synthesis and conformational analysis with biochemical and immunological studies to shed light on how glycans affect mycobacterial physiology, providing the pathway for better diagnostics, treatments, and potential vaccines for tuberculosis and other infectious diseases. Though these fortifications are common to all bacteria and microbes, Lowary’s research has addressed a significant challenge in understanding these disease pathways.

These fundamental investigations form the basis of exciting developments of novel therapeutics, diagnostics, and vaccines, benefiting Canada and the world. Lowary’s research into the synthesis of complex carbohydrates related to bacterial disease is leading to the development of new diagnostic tools and therapeutic approaches to address global health challenges.

“Canada is a leader in this area, and we’re excited about the future. [We are] going to lead the way in solving some of these unmet medical needs…through glycomics,” says Lowary.

Lowary was instrumental in leading the development of GlycoNet. Part of the federal Networks of Centres of Excellence program, this pan-Canadian multidisciplinary initiative with its administrative home at the University of Alberta unites key Canadian glycomics researchers from more than 20 participating institutions with funding for $27.3M over the next five years.  Spearheaded by Lowary, GlycoNet builds on Canada’s international leadership in glycomics established over the last 50 years. GlycoNet also delivers an exceptional comprehensive training program in glycomics research and entrepreneurship to trainees at all levels (high school, undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctoral), bridges the translation gap between research and industry, and translates research advances into tangible benefits for Canada.

The article is republished from UAlberta Faculty of Science.

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