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Scope 41 - Immunoglycomics - the new era of drug discovery

16 April 2010

Immunoglycomics is an emerging field of research that focuses specifically on understanding how particular types of sugars can influence the immune response and how this knowledge can be applied to improve treatments of disease.

Through an Immunoglycomics research initiative established between the Malaghan Institute and Victoria University of Wellington in 2007, scientists led by Dr Bridget Stocker and Dr Mattie Timmer are currently synthesising a range of sugar-based drugs and evaluating their potential to treat disease.

An example of this is a class of compounds called glycolipids, which are being used in conjunction with the cancer vaccine to enhance anti-tumour immunity. While the vaccine effectively acts as the ignition and turns the immune response on, the glycolipid acts as the throttle and can be used to control the intensity of the response.

In other work a novel class of drugs are being synthesised that target a survival mechanism of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the causative agent of tuberculosis. Sugar-based compounds are also being used to help understand what triggers the allergic immune response seen in asthmatic individuals.

These studies will provide the first detailed insight into the relationship between carbohydrates and the immune response, which will aid in the diagnosis and treatment of disease.