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December 13, 2001

Contact: Sue Pondrom (619) 543-6163

UCSD’s Jeffrey Esko Elected President Of Society for Glycobiology   

Jeffrey D. Esko, Ph.D., one of the nation’s top researchers in the hot new field of glycobiology – the structure, function and metabolism of glycans, the body’s array of complex sugars – was elected president of the Society for Glycobiology at its national meeting last month in San Francisco.  A professor of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine, Esko is associate director of the UCSD Glycobiology Research and Training Center.

Recent advances in glycan studies have encouraged researchers throughout the world to investigate these compounds, which are a major ingredient of every living organism.  As varied in structure as they are ubiquitous, glycans are attached as long intricate chains to proteins and fats, or exist freely on their own. They promote communication and connections between healthy cells, and can be deeply involved when things go wrong, for example in infectious disease, inflammation and cancer.

Esko studies sugar chains called glycosaminoglycans, which are principle components of cells, the matrix surrounding cells, and cartilage.  He has a particular interest in Hereditary Multiple Exostoses (HME), a childhood disease where cartilage outgrowths occur from the growth plates of the long bones, painfully compressing soft tissue like muscles and nerves.   Children with this disease are more likely to develop malignancies of cartilage. 

“This disorder is related to defects in genes involved in the formation of a glycan called heparan sulfate,” Esko said.  Although related to the pharmaceutical compound called heparin, heparan sulfate is involved in cell adhesion and activation of growth factors.

Esko received his Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he developed methods for identifying animal cell mutants.  After an independent fellowship at the Molecular Biology Institute at UCLA, he moved to the University of Alabama, Birmingham.   Moving to UCSD in 1996, Esko has actively participated in the organization and direction of the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program, and the Glycobiology Research and Training Center. His current work focuses on mouse models of human diseases related to cellular glycans.  He is a recipient of grants from the American Cancer Society (ACS), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the private sector.

Esko has served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, Glycobiology, and Analytical Biochemistry, and on advisory boards for the NIH, ACS, and for several companies.  He chaired the 1998 Gordon Research Conference on Proteoglycans, and is co-chairing this summer the first international meeting on HME.

The Society for Glycobiology is designed to promote research into the structure, biosynthesis and biological function of glycans and the various glycoconjugates found in microorganisms, animal and plant cells.  To foster communication among investigators, the society organizes a yearly international meeting that Esko will chair in 2003.  He also currently serves as an associate editor for Glycobiology, the society’s official journal.


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