Consortium for Functional Glycomics awarded $40.7 million 'glue' grant

New multi-year funding will allow international group to unravel carbohydrate mysteries

The Consortium for Functional Glycomics was formed in response to the NIGMS announcement that it would provide glue grants to support multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional research projects that would be considered beyond the means of any one group. The new grant will be shared by several institutions, including the University of California, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Palo Alto Research Center, Emory University, Indiana University, Imperial College of London (United Kingdom), Kyoto University (Japan), ND Zelinsky Institute of Organic Chemistry (Russia), and VU University Medical Center (The Netherlands). Currently, more than 30 percent of consortium members are from outside the United States, representing more than 25 countries.

"It was the NIGMS idea to 'glue' together the work of these independently funded investigators and to provide the funds necessary to accelerate research into this critically important field," said Scripps Research Professor James Paulson, a member of the Consortium for Functional Glycomics steering committee and leader of the project. ""The long-range goal of the Consortium for Functional Glycomics is to fully understand the mechanisms through which carbohydrate-binding proteins mediate cell function and to share that knowledge with other researchers around the world. We know that carbohydrates aid in the proper trafficking of cells in the body, and that they can modulate signaling from the outside of a cell to the inside, but what we know so far is just the tip of the iceberg. This new grant will help us uncover what lies beneath."

For its first five years, the consortium established the basic infrastructure, research teams, databases, and alliances necessary to make progress toward its long-term goals. The most popular resource has been the glycan array (glycans are relatively complex carbohydrates, sometimes called polysaccharides). To date, the array has been used by over 200 investigators, including in recent research from the laboratories of Scripps Research scientists Ian A. Wilson and James Paulson to investigate the host specificity of avian influenza virus.

NIGMS director Jeremy M. Berg said, "We designed glue grants to bring together scientists to address a common, fundamental biomedical problem, in this case the study of carbohydrates. Since it was formed in 2001, the Consortium for Functional Glycomics has done an exceptional job in this regard by developing and disseminating resources to the wider scientific community. We look forward to many exciting advances in the final five years of funding."

While the consortium's first five years were spent building resources, the focus of the second five years will be on using those resources to uncover new biology, Paulson said.

"We have several new initiatives planned," he said, "including the creation of a pathogen glycan array, facilitating the development of new technologies for conducting high-throughput glycomics analysis, and the creation of a reagent bank to provide reagents such as glycan-specific antibodies to the glycobiology community. Ultimately, the public will be the prime beneficiary of this research as new discoveries are translated into treatments for disease."

Earlier this year, the consortium's glycan microarray was used to identify mutations that could enable adaptation of a particularly virulent form of H5N1-the avian flu virus-to spread in the human population. The study, which was published in the April 21 edition of the journal Science, was led by Scripps Research Assistant Professor James Stevens, with Wilson and Paulson.

At the time of the study's release, NIGMS's Berg said, "The technology developed by the Consortium for Functional Glycomics allows researchers to assay hundreds of carbohydrate varieties in a single experiment and is the kind of technology that the Consortium for Functional Glycomics specializes in. The glycan microarray offers a detailed picture of viral receptor specificity that can be used to map the evolution of new human pathogenic strains, such as the H5N1 avian influenza, and could prove invaluable in the early identification of emerging viruses that could cause new epidemics."

Since its formation, the Consortium for Functional Glycomics has provided a platform for open discussion of the bioinformatics needs of the glycomics field. The consortium has been particularly active in organizing and participating in symposia and workshops to develop the analytic standards, data exchange formats, and bioinformatics tools necessary to move the study of glycomics forward.

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For more information on the Consortium for Functional Glycomics, please visit its web site at: http://functionalglycomics.org.

About The Scripps Research Institute
The Scripps Research Institute is one of the world's largest independent, non-profit biomedical research organizations, at the forefront of basic biomedical science that seeks to comprehend the most fundamental processes of life. Scripps Research is internationally recognized for its discoveries in immunology, molecular and cellular biology, chemistry, neurosciences, autoimmune, cardiovascular, and infectious diseases, and synthetic vaccine development. Established in its current configuration in 1961, it employs approximately 3,000 scientists, postdoctoral fellows, scientific and other technicians, doctoral degree graduate students, and administrative and technical support personnel. Scripps Research is headquartered in La Jolla, California. It also includes Scripps Florida, whose researchers focus on basic biomedical science, drug discovery, and technology development. Currently operating from temporary facilities in Jupiter, Scripps Florida will move to its permanent campus in 2009.


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