Test tubes with multicolored background.

Facilitating Early Cancer Detection

At the most basic level, living organisms are composed of four families of structurally related macromolecules: nucleic acids, proteins, lipids and glycans. Montclair State Chemistry and Biochemistry Professor Jinshan Gao focuses his research on glycans, which play roles in fields ranging from health to materials fabrication.

Gao is the recipient of a two-year, $357,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop free radical agents to enrich glycans — and make it easier to clarify their structure and the role they potentially play in the development of cancers, diabetes and immune disorders. “Without the enrichment of glycans, it would be very difficult to study their structures and functions,” Gao explains. “This novel approach will significantly advance the frontier of the study of glycans, or glycomics.”

While mass spectrometry is the pivotal technique for characterizing glycans, fully profiling glycans and glycoproteins is particularly challenging for reasons ranging from their structural complexity and diversity to a low-abundance of native glycoproteins.

Gao’s grant supports research to develop solid-supported free radical probes, or SSFRP, for glycan enrichment and characterization. “After the glycans are coupled with SSFRP, all the impurities will be washed away,” he says. “This will create an easily accessible tool with which to simultaneously enrich and characterize glycans.”

Montclair State graduate and undergraduate students will be involved throughout the project’s research activities, with undergraduates obtaining preliminary data.

Ultimately, Gao believes his research will benefit biomedical researchers. “It will facilitate the development of glycan biomarkers for early cancer detection and help advance understanding of the roles of glycans in health and disease.”