Sugars were once credited with magical healing powers but are now seen like salt as an evil necessary in small doses but the cause of numerous diseases such as diabetes if taken in excess. Yet latest research suggests this view ignores the vital role played by more complex sugars in many biological structures, and the great therapeutic potential they have.
This all emerged in a recent workshop organised by the European Science Foundation (ESF) on the current state of the art in glycoscience, the study of complex sugars in biology. Delegates heard how glycoscience has become one of the hotbeds of biological and medical research, intimately involved in every aspect of metabolism and immune function. The big challenge now is to coordinate research in the field, bring together the relevant specialisms, and determine where to go next, according to the ESF workshops convenor, Tony Merry from Manchester University in the UK. There is so much progress in the field it is a bit difficult to predict where the greatest impact will be, said Merry.
The key point is that complex sugars are involved every time cells, and smaller structures within cells, communicate or bind with each other. This means they play a major part in all processes, including immune recognition and brain functions such as memory. It also means complex carbohydrates are often implicated in diseases where these functions go wrong, including auto-immune disorders such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as some cancers. The immune response often depends on the identity and location of sugars on antigens, which are the surface molecules on pathogens such as bacteria, or in principle any cells or smaller biological components such as protein complexes, that are recognised by the bodys own machinery for detecting foreign bodies. Complex sugars such as polysaccharides are core components of antigens, alongside lipids (fatty compounds) and proteins. These antigens in ef
|Contact: Dr. Tony Merry|
European Science Foundation