Carbohydrates are present in every living system and are mainly known for their role as energy sources. However, carbohydrates and the enzymes that process these motifs have now been shown to be involved in all fundamental biological processes and are currently linked to, or involved in, every major disease described. As greater understanding into the roles that these materials play in our cells becomes apparent opportunities arise to develop tools and diagnostics to study these materials as well as develop potential therapeutics. The research area of Chemical Glycobiology is a field that has developed with these goals in mind.

Research Associate Professor Keith Stubbs specialises in the field of Chemical Glycobiology – an interdisciplinary field that spans synthetic chemistry, biochemistry and molecular biology and has strong affiliations with structural- and micro-biology, and nanotechnology. In particular he is focusing his efforts on the design and development of compounds capable of studying a specific enzyme and/or carbohydrate motif selectively which allows for understanding of the role that the particular enzyme and/or carbohydrate plays in a normal or disease state. His research encompasses a variety of projects.

Development of compounds to investigate carbohydrate-processing enzymes and treat the disease they cause. All human diseases are currently linked to, or caused by, a dysfunction of a carbohydrate-processing enzyme or over-, under-, or incorrect production of a carbohydrate structure. This presents an opportunity to develop novel therapeutics to treat human diseases.

Development of compounds to investigate carbohydrate-processing enzymes as new antibiotic targets. As the threat of antibiotic resistance grows everyday new therapeutic targets are required. Research Associate Professor Stubbs is currently investigating targets for the development of new antimicrobials.

Investigations into the glycobiology of human milk oligosaccharides. One class of carbohydrates is those found in human breast milk and are termed human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs). These compounds are critical for infant health as they provide nutrition for bifidobacteria (found in the human intestinal tract) which provide beneficial value to infants such as prevention of pathogenic bacterial growth and suppression of inflammatory and allergic responses. To date though, limited chemical tools have been generated to study these fundamentally important molecules.

Investigations into the mechanism and biochemistry of carbohydrate-processing enzymes involved in plant cell wall degradation. Historically, the breakdown of plant polysaccharides by carbohydrate-processing enzymes has been essential to various industries including those associated with beverages, textiles and pulps. Of increasing interest is how bacteria utilise these materials as this has direct importance to humans as we are only able to utilise these carbohydrates for metabolism due to the action of unique enzymes produced by the bacteria living in our gastrointestinal tract. Again limited chemical tools have been generated to study these fundamentally important bioprocesses and therefore the development of such tools is important to understand the processes involved.

These projects will bring useful outcomes for not only the scientific community but also for the general public. Research Associate Professor Stubbs’ research team believes the research will significantly improve the health and well being of people.

Collaborator/s

  • Simon Fraser University
  • University of York
  • University of Victoria
  • University of British Columbia