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Iowa State chemist synthesizes carbohydrates, launches startup company

AMES, Iowa Carbohydrates are part of our daily vocabulary. We all know they're part of a healthy diet. We know they're in breads and pastas. We know they have something to do with starches and sugars. But, even though carbohydrates are so familiar, there's still a lot for science to learn about them.

"Our knowledge of carbohydrates is still in its infancy," said Nikki Pohl, an Iowa State University associate professor of chemistry. Pohl said there's more to learn about carbohydrates because it's very difficult to synthesize specific carbohydrate molecules for study. To date, that's been a slow, labor-intensive and expensive practice.

But Pohl thinks she's found a solution. She's developed a synthesis technology that's predictable, automated and much more efficient. It can even handle the production of complex carbohydrate molecules with multiple branches and long chains of sugars.

The Iowa State University Research Foundation Inc. has filed for a patent of Pohl's technology.

She says her process can fabricate a custom-order, complex carbohydrate molecule in 24 hours. Current commercial technology requires six to 12 months for the same molecule at a cost that can be 10 times higher than Pohl's technology.

Pohl has launched a startup company called LuCELLa Biosciences Inc. to license the technology and use it to produce and market carbohydrate molecules for researchers at universities, government agencies and private pharmaceutical companies. The company is now located in the Roy J. Carver Co-Laboratory on the Iowa State campus.

Pohl is developing her technology and advancing the startup company with the help of a $66,477 grant from the Grow Iowa Values Fund, a state economic development program.

Beatrice Collet, the principal scientist for LuCELLa and a former post-doctoral researcher in Pohl's Iowa State lab, said the company plans to develop an online catalog and begin selling carbohydrates b

Contact: Nikki Pohl
Iowa State University

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