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NIH awards $17 million Program of Excellence Award in glycosciences to Brigham and Women's Hospital

Boston, MA The laboratory of Robert Sackstein, MD, PhD, of the Dermatology Department at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH), has been granted a prestigious Program of Excellence Award from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to support investigations in glycobiology: the discipline which studies how sugars direct biologic processes. This particular Program of Excellence Award, the "Program of Excellence in Glycosciences" (PEG), is one of only five bestowed nation-wide, and provides more than $17 million of funding over a seven year period to support research in the lab of Dr. Sackstein and his collaborators.

"This award offers an unprecedented opportunity for the advancement of the discipline of glycobiology, and, commensurately, an immense opportunity for BWH, Harvard Medical School, and the greater Boston biomedical science community," said Dr. Sackstein, also an associate professor of dermatology and of medicine at Harvard Medical School. "Understanding glycobiology is at the core of explaining how cells in the body interact with each other, how they move in the body, how they lodge within tissue microenvironments, and how they grow and differentiate."

There is currently abundant evidence that sugar modifications of proteins and fats (lipids) regulate many of the biologic effects of these molecules. However, owing to a general lack of investigative expertise in sugar chemistry, especially among biomedical researchers, there has been relatively little work in elucidating how sugar modifications direct biologic processes. "The work that this Award supports is best represented by the term 'translational glycobiology,' as distinguished from 'glycosciences' and glycobiology,' because the ultimate goal is to obtain clinically translatable knowledge to improve the human condition," said Dr. Sackstein.

Dr. Sackstein's lab has pioneered the creation of novel tools and reagents to program discrete sugar modifications on the surface of live cells to achieve predetermined biologic effects. In a comprehensive multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approach with collaborators Dr. Karen Hoffmeister, also of BWH, Dr. Joseph Lau, of Roswell Park Cancer Institute, and Dr. Vernon Rheinhold, of the University of New Hampshire, Dr. Sackstein's PEG project will specifically define how cell surface sugar modifications regulate blood cell production under both normal and pathologic conditions. The overarching goal of the program is to characterize the structure and function of certain sugars displayed on blood-forming cells, and thereby provide insights on how display of such sugars can be enforced to achieve therapeutic effects.

The PEG award was conceived and established by the NHLBI when current BWH President Elizabeth G. Nabel, MD, directed the institute. "Research in glycobiology has potential to advance patient care by improving blood cell development and treatments for blood diseases," said Dr. Nabel. "It is gratifying to see this translational work carried out at BWH."

Beyond funding critical research objectives, the Award also provides support for training investigators in glycobiology as well as support for key core resources for characterization and analysis of sugar modifications. With the express intent to provide the requisite investigative skills and resources to define how modulation of sugar modifications can advance needed breakthroughs in diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease, the Award will thus spearhead the development of glycobiology at BWH and, more generally, at other research institutions of the northeast US.


Contact: Holly Brown-Ayers
Brigham and Women's Hospital

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