The 1st Biochemical Society and Against Breast Cancer Glyco Oncology Workshop took place in April at the historic New College, Oxford where international scientists convened to discuss glycobiology.
This is a relatively new field of research that has been slow to attract the attention of the wider scientific community and funding bodies, despite increasing recognition of its importance in health and disease, including cancer.
Scientists with expertise in cancer, genetics, biochemistry, immunity and materials gave short presentations on their research discoveries and interests which were followed by a series of discussion sessions to identify the key questions that need to be answered to invent better tools for cancer diagnosis and treatments. This provided an opportunity for the scientists to understand the other delegates’ area of expertise which facilitated the discussions and networking, and we hope that this 1st Workshop will lead to new collaborations emerging.
Against Breast Cancer funds research into secondary breast cancer with a special interest in the glycobiology involved, and our Workshop resulted in a number of major challenges being identified in this field. For example, the need for specific training programmes for bioinformaticians and a global collaborative effort for a glycomics database were highlighted, as the bioinformatics resources currently available for glycobiologists, in terms of people and infrastructure, lags behind more mature fields of biology such as the study of genes (genomics) or proteins (proteomics). To address the enormous financial investment this effort would require, the Workshop delegates decided to present a case for glycobiology bioinformatics to be considered for the Cancer Research UK’s multi-million pound ‘Grand Challenge’ scheme.
I think there has been excellent cross-fertilization of the glycobiology and structured methodology communities during the day” said Anne Dell, invited speaker and Professor of Carbohydrate Biochemistry at Imperial College London. “This type of meeting is an incredibly valuable way of catalysing new collaborations and community activities. I strongly support the aspirations of the organiser to use the Workshop as a platform for a cancer/glycobiology network”.Anne Dell, Invited speaker and Professor of Carbohydrate Biochemistry at Imperial College London
The term ‘glycobiology’ was coined only fairly recently and describes the study of sugar molecules, called glycans, in nature; their structure, function and biosynthesis. The co-founder of Against Breast Cancer, Dr. Anthony Leathem discovered during his own research in the late 1980’s that secondary breast cancers had an unusual arrangement of glycans on the cancer cell surface compared to non-invasive breast cancer cells, an observation now known to be common among different cancer types.
The Workshop covered a range of topics to assess what will be needed in the future to answer the key questions raised, and to share knowledge of the benefits and deficits of resources and experimental techniques that are currently available. Scientists discussed how cancers give and receive signals from the surrounding healthy tissue and cells of the immune system, problems and solutions when isolating and analysing these signals, and considerations when creating life-like 3D models in the laboratory to study how cancerous and healthy cells interact.