Rare earth to reveal role of sugar in sickness – University of Copenhagen

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31 March 2014

Rare earth to reveal role of sugar in sickness

Medicinal chemistry

Recent research has revealed that sugars in the body play a role in a long list of diseases. This insight has lead researchers on a hunt for methods to see and chart sugars moving in and between cells. But marking the biological sugars is challenging. Now; Assistant Professor Thomas Just Sørensen at Department of Chemistry, University of Copenhagen, has received funding of one and a half million DKK from The Danish Council for Independent research. The backing will go towards subsidizing a project to reveal whether dyes based on lanthanides, those elements known as “rare earths”, can be used to bind sugars.

Assistant Professor Thomas Just Soerensen in his Department of Chemistry, University of Copenhagen lab

Biomarkers based on lanthanides would be very useful in conventional microscopy because most of them are strongly fluorescent, and in electron microscopy as they provide good contrast here. But there is a challenge. No one knows whether the rare earths can be coaxed to bind to sugars of biological interest.

Synthetic chemistry to build molecular puzzle bits

Somewhat like pieces of a puzzle the biological sugars have a dowel-like structure which fits into a hole, or pocket, in proteins. The major part of Sørensen’s project will be to chemically synthesize molecular structures with pockets for the sugars to attach themselves to. He admits that he cannot be sure that this will work, but if it does he has no doubt.

“This research is as fundamental as it comes and I can only hope that it works. But if it does, it must immediately be patented”, concludes Thomas Just Sørensen.