Our Research

Elucidating the role of glycans in human disease requires: 

Design of Chemical Tools
Biochemistry
Cellular Biology &
Immunology

Why Glycans?

Glycans are oligosaccharides (sugars linked together). Glycans are densely arrayed on the cell surface, playing many biological roles. Studying the biological roles of these glycans is the field of glycobiology.

Conventional methodologies and approaches are often insufficient in tackling roles for glycans in biology. Our laboratory takes an original approach that leans heavily on chemical biology in the study of glycobiology.

Why Siglecs?

Siglecs (Sialic acid-binding immunoglobulin-type lectins) are cell surface proteins that bind sialic acid.

We uses a combination of the chemical, biochemical, and genetic strategies to probe the roles of glycans, through the Siglecs, in modulating immune responses. From these fundamental observations, strategies can be designed to modulate immune cells.

Glycoimmunology

Gylcans serve as ligands for glycan binding proteins (GBPs)

One large family of GBPs that the we study is the Siglecs.

Guide immune responses

Some receptors are specialized in detecting glycans from pathogens to stimulate immune responses. Conversely, other receptors recognize glycans are on our own cells and stop detrimental immune responses

Siglecs-Gylcan Interactions

Siglec-glycan interactions is are weak. This makes it difficult to study them outside of the context of a cell-cell interactions, where the ‘velcro effect’ (avidity) is at play. The second challenge relates to the chemical complexity of glycans.

Overcoming These Challenges: 
1. Developing tools to study Siglec-glycan interactions that mimic the natural avidity of Siglecs

2. Applying chemical biology approaches to distill down the chemical complexity of glycans.

Liposomes and Bacteriophage

Siglec probes containing a chemical handle allows for rapid and bio-orthogonal reactions.

These next-generation tools will help researchers uncover critical new roles played by Siglecs and carbohydrates in controlling the function of immune cells.

small molecule inhibitors

Small molecule inhibitors of glycan-processing enzymes are used to manipulate glycan structures

Our lab develops small molecule inhibitors that modulate the activity of the key enzymes that make Siglec ligands in cells called sialyltransferases.

Impact

Immune Cell Functioning

Uncovering critical new roles played by Siglecs and carbohydrates in controlling the function of immune cells.

Brain Health

Understanding fundamental mechanisms by which immune cells (microglia) in the brain contribute to overall brain health.

Tools to Study Siglecs

Designing an innovative set of small molecular tools for researchers, which will also have potential translatability in skewing immune cell responses.

Territorial Acknowledgement

The University of Alberta, its buildings, labs, and research stations are primarily located on the traditional territory of Cree, Blackfoot, Métis, Nakota Sioux, Iroquois, Dene, and Ojibway/Saulteaux/Anishinaabe nations; lands that are now known as part of Treaties 6, 7, and 8 and homeland of the Métis. The University of Alberta respects the sovereignty, lands, histories, languages, knowledge systems, and cultures of First Nations, Métis and Inuit nations.

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