At 4:00pm (BST) on Tuesday 29th March, Carolyn Bertozzi will present the 2022 Max Perutz Lecture, titled ‘Therapeutic Opportunities in Glycoscience.’ Her talk will be delivered over Zoom and is free and open to all who are interested.
Based at Stanford University, California, Carolyn holds the positions of Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Chemistry, Baker Family Director of Stanford ChEM-H, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. Her research group focuses on the study of glycans and cell surface glycosylation, combining chemical and biological approaches to better understand the chemistry of cellular communication.
More specifically, Carolyn’s research has concentrated on identifying changes in cell membrane glycosylation – the mediator of crucial intercellular processes such as signal transduction and immune protection. In this endeavour, Carolyn founded the field of biorthogonal chemistry, reflecting the practice of performing chemical reactions within cells or organisms without intruding on their usual biochemical functions. Using methodologies pioneered by herself and others, she has made significant advancements in understanding the glycocalyx (a dense network of sugar-coated molecules found on most cell surfaces, important for the maintenance of intercellular interactions) and its role in human health.
Carolyn’s research has brought the field of glycobiology into the mainstream and provided important insights into cellular function. Just last year, her group discovered a novel biomolecule named glycoRNA. The RNA ribbon with attached glycan sugar molecules is the first known instance where RNA is used as a scaffolding for glycosylation and could be present in all life forms. Carolyn’s research also holds vast clinical importance within immuno-oncology for the development of drug discovery and the therapeutic targeting of cancer, inflammation, bacterial infection, tuberculosis and most recently COVID-19.
After obtaining her undergraduate degree in Chemistry from Harvard University, Carolyn then received a Ph.D. for studies on the chemical synthesis of oligosaccharide analogs from the University of California, Berkeley. Following a postdoctoral placement at the University of California, San Francisco, where she researched the activity of endothelial oligosaccharides in promoting cell adhesion at sites of inflammation, she joined the University of California, Berkeley as a faculty member in 1996. Since 2000, Carolyn has been a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, and she joined Stanford University in June 2015.
Carolyn’s trailblazing career has been honoured with numerous awards. In 2015 the U.S. Department of Energy granted her the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award, in 2017 she received the Arthur C. Cope Award from the American Chemical Society, and the Wolf Foundation named her their Laureate in Chemistry in 2022, to name a few.
Cell surface glycans constitute a rich biomolecular dataset that drives both normal and pathological processes. Their “readers” are glycan-binding receptors that can engage in cell-cell interactions and cell signaling. Our research focuses on mechanistic studies of glycan/receptor biology and applications of this knowledge to new therapeutic strategies. Our recent efforts center on pathogenic glycans in the tumor microenvironment and new therapeutic modalities based on the concept of targeted degradation.
The Max Perutz Lecture is one of a series of named lectures organised by the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) to be delivered by esteemed scientists from around the world, and is given in honour of LMB alumnus and Nobel Laureate, Max Perutz. Max first arrived in Cambridge in 1936 as a research student to study X-ray crystallography at the Cavendish Laboratory under J. D. Bernal. He soon became a world leader in the field of molecular biology, developing a novel technique to determine the structure of proteins. Max is a central figure in the LMB’s history: he was the first Director of the ‘MRC Unit for Research on the Molecular Structure of Biological Systems’ upon its establishment in 1947, and became the first Chairman of the unit when it became the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in 1962. In this year, he was also awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry jointly with John Kendrew for their studies on protein structures. He remained at the helm of the LMB as the lab grew to be a preeminent research institute, before retiring in 1979. He died on 6 February 2002, aged 87, in Cambridge.