Harvard Medical School Center for Glycoscience

Advancing Research into Glycomics

A simple model of the Cosmc gene (blue) interacting with a peptide (red) Cosmc's glycosyltransferase homology region (inset box) helps to fold an enzyme that links carbohydrates to other molecules to form glycoconjugates.

The Harvard Medical School (HMS) Center for Glycoscience, launched in 2016 and based in the Department of Surgery, is the epicenter of translational research for clinicians and investigators from around the world who are focused on deciphering the biological role of glycans — sugars and other carbohydrates — in health and disease.  The ultimate goal is to translate these discoveries into new therapies to improve human health.

The center’s director is Richard Cummings, PhD, an international leader in the rapidly emerging field of glycobiology and Vice Chair of Basic and Translational Research in the Department of Surgery. He is also the S. Daniel Abraham Professor of Surgery in the Field of Nutrition Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Cummings also serves as Director of the National Institutes of Health-funded National Center for Functional Glycomics, which also resides in the Department of Surgery, and Chair of the Consortium for Functional Glycomics, an international group of some 600 investigators.

Harvard Medical School Center for Glycoscience
Inaugural Symposium

Harvard Medical School Center for Glycoscience Inaugural SymposiumWednesday, October 24, 2018
Joseph B. Martin Conference Center
77 Avenue Louis Pasteur
Boston, MA 02115

Outstanding researchers from around the country provided researchers and clinicians with the opportunity to hear about current glycoscience research, promote a greater understanding of how glycoscience relates to diverse research and medicine, and foster discussions among the community.

Keynote Speaker

Hudson Freeze, PhD
Professor of Glycobiology and Director, Human Genetics Program
Sanford Children's Health Research Center
Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute

Other Speakers

Galit Alter, PhD
Professor of Medicine
Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard

Kevin Campbell, PhD
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Director, Senator Paul D. Wellstone Muscular Dystrophy Cooperative Research Center

Richard D. Cummings, PhD
Professor of Surgery
Harvard Medical School
Vice Chair of Basic and Translational Research,
Department of Surgery, BIDMC
Co-Director, HMS Center for Glycoscience
Director, National Center for Functional Glycomics

Gerald Warren Hart, PhD
Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Complex Carbohydrate Research Center
University of Georgia

Linda Hsieh-Wilson, PhD
Professor of Chemistry
California Institute of Technology

Dennis L. Kasper, MD
William Ellery Channing Professor of Medicine and Professor of Microbiology and Immunobiology
Harvard Medical School

Robert Sackstein, MD, PhD
Professor of Dermatology and Medicine
Harvard Medical School
Co-Director, HMS Center for Glycoscience
Director, BWH/HMS Program of Excellence in Glycoscience

Suzanne Walker, PhD
Professor of Microbiology
Harvard Medical School

Glycans: An essential role in health and disease

Glycobiology involves the study of the structure, biology, evolution, and function of glycans — chemically linked chains of sugars or carbohydrates. Glycans are widely prevalent throughout nature and are present in all cells, connective tissue, and bodily fluids. They play an essential role in how cells work and, therefore, in development and virtually all aspects of health and disease.

The Harvard Medical School Center for Glycoscience leads highly collaborative, interdisciplinary glycobiology research and translates this knowledge into the prevention, detection, and treatment of a host of conditions, including cancer, inflammation, infectious diseases, immunity, and congenital disorders.

Novel insights and therapeutic targets

Recent work in the center has led to novel insights — and potential new therapeutic targets — in a wide range of conditions involving inflammation and tissue damage, such as blood clots, heart disease, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Current clinical applications

In addition to its enormous future potential, glycobiology research has already led to many important applications in clinical practice, such as drugs and biomarkers that are glycocongugates or based on sugars. Examples include well-known biomarkers for colon, pancreatic, ovarian, and breast cancer; antivirals and antibiotics; and treatments for diabetes, epilepsy, osteoarthritis, and migraines, and other conditions.

Education and training

In addition to research, the center also provides education and training in glycobiology, as well as access to the specialized technologies and resources critical for progress in this field. Additionally, the center engages junior investigators with an interest in glycobiology and assists them with their career development.


Learn more about how glycomics research by Dr. Cummings and colleagues has identified a promising drug candidate to prevent pain from sickle cell disease.