Glycans Hit the Sweet Spot in Diagnostics

The surface of our cells are covered in sugar molecules called glycans. The field of glycomics leverages their enormous diversity to develop better and more precise diagnostics.

More commonly known as sugars or carbohydrates, glycans are involved in a range of crucial biological roles, including maintaining tissue elasticity, tackling pathogens, and modulating the immune system. Since they play a role in most biological functions, and many more get uncovered, researchers are increasingly looking at the glycome – the complete set of all glycans in a cell – to develop diagnostics. 

The human genome comprises about 25,000 protein-encoding genes. In comparison, the human glycome comprises millions of different kinds of possible glycans. Glycans are composed of simple sugars linked together to form all kinds of complex structures. Glycan structures change according to environmental stimuli such as pH, hormonal stimulation, and inflammation. The glycome of a cell thus provides a detailed picture of what’s happening at the molecular level within the cell. Leveraging this enormous diversity of glycans enables the development of highly-specific diagnostics that offer very detailed information.

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