Bertozzi Receives Johnson & Johnson Focus Grant to Aid Tumor Vaccine Research

Carolyn Bertozzi receives a congratulatory high-five from Johnson & Johnson representative Joe Dudash. Photo by Jane Scheiber.


Back to April 2002 Newsletter


Carolyn Bertozzi has received a Focused Giving Grant from Johnson & Johnson of $240,000 for her research on the use of synthesized sugars in developing a tumor vaccine.

Bertozzi, professor of chemistry and molecular and cell biology, uses a metabolic engineering approach to alter the structures of sugars on cell surfaces. “We exploit pathways of polysaccharide biosynthesis in the cell,” she explained. “We can feed the cell nonnatural sugars made in the lab, and the cells will convert these substrates to unnatural sugars presented on the cell surface.”

The idea to apply this technique to tumor vaccine therapy was motivated by several studies that have identified unique sugar structures on tumor cells. In principle, a vaccine based on those tumor-associated sugars would stimulate the patient’s own immune system against the tumor cells. In practice, however, tumor-specific sugars are not very immunogenic since they closely resemble normal sugars found on healthy cells. Bertozzi’s use of unnatural sugar metabolism could alter the structures of tumor-associated sugars so that they appear more foreign to the immune system and provoke a more intense reaction against the tumor. Proof-of-concept studies are presently underway by graduate students Jennifer Prescher and George Lemieux.

Johnson & Johnson is one of the world's largest producers of health care products and, through the Focused Giving Program, funds academic investigators doing basic research to advance science and technology in medical fields.