Renewed funding for glycomics research aims to improve human health

Pan-Canadian research initiative GlycoNet, centred at UAlberta, receives $16.3 million three-year investment in funding.

Andrew Lyle - 10 July 2020

GlycoNet, a pan-Canadian Network of Centres of Excellence of more than 140 researchers, centred at UAlberta, has received a $16.3 million investment to continue its mission researching glycomics for the benefit of human health.

“The University of Alberta has one of the strongest groups of glycan researchers in the world and has a history of strength in this area,” said Lara Mahal, associate director of clinical partnerships, professor in the Department of Chemistry, and Canada Excellence Research Chair in Glycomics. “GlycoNet has built on this to help connect and promote glycobiology research—the study of carbohydrates—throughout Canada. Due in part to the efforts of the network, glycobiology is now being seen as the powerful determinant of human health that it has always been.”

Glycans coat every cell in our bodies, explained Mahal, and are present on most cell surface proteins and help our immune systems identify and react to invaders. Our blood types are an example of important large-scale health determined by small-scale glycans. “It is important to study them because they are very important to our health and yet are really understudied compared to other aspects of our biology, like genes and proteins,” said Mahal.

The Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE) recently announced its continued support in Canadian glycomics research with the three-year investment. Founded in 2015 and centred at UAlberta, GlycoNet has been developing a multidisciplinary and collaborative national network to accelerate carbohydrate-based healthcare treatments, vaccines, and technologies for Canadians.

“The renewed funding for GlycoNet gives us another mandate to bring Canadian glycomics research into focus for the Canadian healthcare community,” said Warren Wakarchuk, associate scientific director of GlycoNet and professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. “We are looking forward to seeing where our new projects take us.”

These research efforts have resulted in a potential vaccine candidate and a urine test for tuberculosis, therapeutic treatments for aspergillosis—a fungal infection that often affects the lungs—as well as diagnostics for Parkinson’s disease. More recently, efforts are focused on COVID-19 with the development of drugs and vaccines.

“It is an exciting time to work in the field of glycoscience. I would like to thank the NCE for its continued confidence in the Network,” said Todd Lowary, scientific director of GlycoNet and R.U. Lemieux Professor in Carbohydrate Chemistry in the Department of Chemistry. 

“We are unique in what we do,” continued Lowary. “Our research focuses on the roles of carbohydrates in human health, and we use this knowledge to discover new drugs, vaccines, and diagnostics for a variety of major diseases which burden millions of Canadians and others around the globe.”

The University of Alberta is a strong contributor to Canada’s glycomics research expertise. Learn more about the research in this field on campus, and how it aims to benefit human health.