6 September 2013

New professor looking for sweet cure

Medicinal Chemistry

When agents of disease try to enter a human cell they will almost always use a sugar- a glycan, as the crowbar that opens the cellular gate. Ola Blixt has spent the past ten years trying to figure out how toxins, bacteria and virus use the sugars to gain entry. Now he has been hired by CHEM in a three year professorship in chemical glycobiology starting September 1st. 2013. And he’s thrilled at the prospect.

"Understanding how sugars interact with cell surface molecules is very important and will aid in the developments of new, medical and diagnostic applications.

Ola Blixt

Professor, Chemical glycobiology

Dept of Chemistry, UCPH

“Understanding how sugars interact with cell surface molecules is very important and will aid in the developments of new, medical and diagnostic applications, which I hope to develop together with my new colleagues”, says the fresh professor.

Fragile sugars and hard chemistry

The 42 Year old Blixt is a keen collaborator.  In his previous jobs he developed microarray and bead screening technologies for rapid identification of thousands binding events in one single experiment. He also brings with him considerable expertise in synthesizing glycans using the methods of chemistry and enzymology, and this is exacting work.

“The sugar field is still quite a small one, mostly because the glycans are complicated structures, which are hard to build chemically but also difficult to characterize”, says Blixt, and goes on:

“For example, the Human Genome Project and the transformation of genomics was initiated by the research community beyond any technical capability available at the time, but succeeded largely due to the tools that were developed. Today, the glycoscience field is at a similar place. Therefore, development of new glycotechnology tools for detection, imaging, and biosynthesis of glycans should be a prime focus and increasingly important to all disciplines”.

Looking for partners in chem

In the Department of Chemistry the professor hopes to enter into collaboration with as many as possible of the department specialists on proteins, cell membranes and other subjects in the borderland between chemistry and biology.

Projects for thesis and collaborative research

Professor Blixt also hopes to attract students. He is in the process of hiring new PhD students and has a number of projects suitable for bachelor as well as master students. Some of a three month duration, others six, but even though all of the projects are self-contained, they also all feed into the greater work of understanding how sugars can block diseases from entering into cells, how sugars can be used for diagnosing ills and how they can be used in vaccine development, says Blixt.

“Sugars are involved in all interactions involving cells: Cell to cell, cell to virus, cell to pathogen and cell to toxins. Even the interaction between egg cell and sperm is mediated by sugars. So the way I see it, sugars ought to connect scientists as well,” concludes the newly minted professor Ola Blixt.

Blixt is planning to present his work to the department at a seminar in mid October.