National award recognizes local researcher Carolyn Bertozzi

August 24, 1999

NEW ORLEANS, La., Aug. 24 -- Carolyn Bertozzi of Albany, Calif., will be honored August 24 by the world's largest scientific society for using sugars attached to the surfaces of body cells to further understanding and treatment of diseases ranging from rheumatoid arthritis to cancer. She will receive the1999 Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award from the American Chemical Society at its national meeting in New Orleans.

"In order for cells to work together as tissues and organs, they have to be able to communicate with each other," explained Bertozzi, an organic chemist at the University of California at Berkeley. "Some of that communication is mediated by sugar molecules around the surfaces of cells. So we study how the structure of these sugar molecules direct how the cells interact within tissues."

Cancer cells, for example, tend to have unusual sugars on their surfaces which, Bertozzi's group has discovered, may prevent their destruction by the immune system. This may help explain why some cancers are more difficult to treat than others, she said.

Bertozzi's work has also contributed to development of techniques for using "signature sugars" as beacons for diagnostic tools and chemotherapy agents.

In addition to studying the sugar structures (also called carbohydrates) already displayed by cells, Bertozzi is learning to modify them for new purposes ó or in her words, "to redecorate the cell surface." For example, she can feed cancer cells a precursor of cancer-associated sugars with a unique molecular "tag."

"This gives us a chemical handle that we can target with diagnostic agents, such as probes for magnetic resonance imaging [MRI]," she explained. "The hope is to eventually be able to diagnose cancers at an earlier stage."

Bertozzi also investigates the role of sugars in rheumatoid arthritis, organ-transplant rejection, and other forms of chronic inflammation.

"When you have tissue damage, that's inflammation that has gone out of control," she said. "If we can understand the molecules involved in that, we may be able to calm it down."

Bertozzi's research group has discovered that certain carbohydrates are unique to inflammation sites. Inhibitors of the enzymes that make these sugars might be candidates for new anti-arthritis drugs, she said.
A nonprofit organization with a membership of nearly 159,000 chemists and chemical engineers, the American Chemical Society publishes scientific journals and databases, convenes major research conferences, and provides educational, science policy, and career programs in chemistry. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio. (

American Chemical Society

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