David Vocadlo, a Canada Research Chair (Tier I) in Chemical Glycobiology and chemistry professor, is one of six SFU scientists lending their expertise to Glyconet.

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SFU plays key role in new national hub for glycomics research

February 17, 2015
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Simon Fraser University is playing a key role in the new Canadian Glycomics Network (GlycoNet) announced this month by Minister of Health Rona Ambrose with a commitment of $27.3 million in federal funding over five years.

Glycomics, the study of the structure and function of carbohydrates (sugars) in biological systems, promises to deliver far-reaching solutions to human health problems such as influenza, genetic diseases and diabetes.

Glyconet’s vision is to deliver glycomics-based solutions for important health issues and improve Canadians’ quality of life.

“SFU is engaged in a full range of fundamental and translational research that is contributing to the health and well-being of Canadians, and its researchers are increasingly playing a key role in large-scale research initiatives,” says SFU’s VP Research Joy Johnson.

“Through their partnership in GlycoNet, our researchers and trainees will have more opportunities to extend the reach of their work and maximize its impact.”

GlycoNet is one of five new health-related research networks to receive funding under the federal Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE) program. Ambrose made the funding announcement Feb. 6 at the University of Alberta, GlycoNet’s host institution. SFU co-leads another of the networks, the AGE-WELL NCE, with the University of Toronto. 

GlycoNet will boost Canada’s long tradition of research excellence in glycomics to achieve a position of global leadership in the field. Six SFU scientists are among 64 world-leading Canadian multidisciplinary researchers from academic institutions across Canada who are lending their expertise to the initiative 

  • David Vocadlo, a Canada Research Chair (Tier I) in Chemical Glycobiology and chemistry professor, applies carbohydrate chemistry and chemical glycobiology to the study of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, Type 2 diabetes and cancer;
  • Andrew Bennet, chemistry professor and a leading expert in mechanistic carbohydrate chemistry for rational drug design;
  • Bingyun Sun, chemistry professor, develops tools to study N-glycoylation functions in stem-cell development;
  • Allison Kermode, professor of biological sciences whose research interests are in plant cell biology and physiology;
  • Margo Moore, professor of biological sciences and an eminent researcher in microbiology and environmental toxicology;
  • Robert Young, professor of chemistry, Merck-Frosst – B.C. Discovery Chair in Pharmaceutical Genomics, Bioinformatics and Drug Discovery, whose lab designs and synthesizes small molecule probes to aid in understanding disease processes and to discover novel targets and therapies.

GlycoNet will bolster Canadian glycomics research and training, speed the generation of commercial products from research and provide scientists with a unified vision to strengthen training and essential core research services in the field.

SFU has an established record of engaging industry and translating research knowledge in the area of glycomics through productive spin-out companies, says Johnson.

"The central involvement of SFU in this important initiative signals the great strength of glycomics research at the university,” says Ernest McEachern, CEO of Alectos Therapeutics, an SFU spin-out company and GlycoNet industrial partner.

“We are looking forward to actively participating in this network. We have been impressed by the progressive culture of engagement among SFU researchers and the forward-looking stance of the university with regard to knowledge translation."

Alectos is developing novel therapeutics for cancer and neurological disease and has partnered with leading pharmaceutical company Merck to advance its Alzheimer's disease program.

"SFU has built great expertise in the area of glycomics, ranging from therapeutic proteins to small molecule inhibitors of enzymes that regulate glycans," says Vocadlo.

"This network brings SFU experts who are leaders in these diverse areas of glycomics together with an outstanding national team.

“I anticipate we will see great resulting synergy that will permit us to do leading edge science, while also tackling some of the most pressing health issues of our time, including various cancers, antibiotic resistance, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's."