“Good carbs” versus “bad carbs” in today’s diet controversies aside, carbohydrates are essential to life. Glycans interact with proteins in basic biological processes including diverse functions such as fertilization, virus infections and tumor growth. The structural and functional aspects of the glycome and the proteome are of significant interest in modern medical and biological research. Understanding glycome-protein interactions at the cellular level complements knowledge derived from proteomics and represents the step in the evolutionary processes of post-genome technological development. Advances in glycomics should result in development of glycotherapeutic compounds or processes in a variety of medical applications such as inflammatory processes, infectious diseases, wound healing, neurodegeneration, and tissue engineering.
Meanwhile, most of the protein-based biopharmaceuticals currently on the market or in clinical trials result from some type of post-translational modification (PTM), which alters the protein properties relative to their therapeutic properties. While glycosylation remains the most common PTM, at the present time the relationship between structure and function is not completely understood for glycosylation. Continued research into the structural-functional relationships between glycans and proteins has the potential to result in second-generation products engineered to optimize therapeutic efficacy.
There is ample evidence of the potential for commercial development of medical diagnostics arising from research into glycomics through the mining of the glycome for disease biomarkers. Application of glycomics research to the detection of ovarian cancer has already been presented. HPLC technology has already been automated in a 96-well plate format. When partnered with sophisticated software that performs data interpretation of glycomics databases, HPLC provides an opportunity for high-throughput discovery of new glycodiagnostics. In fact, surface-enhanced laser desorption ionization-time of flight mass spectrometry (SELDITOF) technology already can identify serum glycoprotein biomarkers of diseases such as schizophrenia. Similarly, matrix assisted laser desorption/ionization mass spectrometry (MALDI-MS) mapping can provide glycan profiles from tissues, which has the potential to diagnose certain cancers or diseases such as liver sclerosis.
The emerging field of glycomics relies upon a diverse set of technologies and strategies, many derived from other emerging fields such as proteomics. Research scientists utilize glycoarrays, high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), mass spectrometry (MS), databases and libraries of natural glycan and synthetic chemistry. These research tools are supported by the development of basic tools for data handling, bioinformatics and molecular modeling of glycans. The development of this network of interrelated research tools is the basis for numerous commercial enterprises across the globe that partner with universities and governmental agencies.
The application of these latest advances in biotechnology should
result in novel applications of glycomics approaches to medical diagnostics,
glycotherapeutics and recombinant protein drugs. In the 21st century,
glycomics may emerge as the new genomics and produce a variety of
advances in the biomedical arena.