Yuan Lee Named Fogarty Scholar For Longtime Work In Glycobiology Emil Venere ---------------------------------- Homewood News and Information Hopkins biochemist Yuan Chuan Lee has been named a Fogarty scholar, a prestigious honor awarded to eminent scientists pursuing important biomedical research. About one-third of the scientists nominated are awarded the scholarship. "They are really people who have made an international reputation for themselves," said Jack Schmidt, director of the Scholars-in-Residence Program, conducted by the Fogarty International Center, which is part of the National Institutes of Health. "If their names are mentioned, they are immediately recognized as making major contributions in their field. We've had Nobel laureates in the past." About 200 scientists have received the scholarship since it was founded 26 years ago. Lee was awarded the one-year research scholarship in June. He will use the appointment to collaborate with NIH scientists in developing safer and more effective biochemical vaccines, while also pursuing other goals in the field of glycobiology, his specialty. Lee joined the Hopkins Biology Department in 1965 and is known internationally for his work on complex carbohydrates and how they may signal a range of important biological processes. "It's a very important field," Lee said. But when he began specializing in glyco-biology three decades ago, few research labs were dedicated to the field, in part because complex carbohydrates were more difficult to study than other critical biochemical components, such as proteins and nucleic acids. Since then, however, major advances have provided new tools that are enabling scientists to study the biological functions of complex carbohydrates. These days glycobiology has its own scientific journal, and even its own organization, the Society of Glycobiology. The field is coming into its own. Meanwhile, the 62-year-old Lee has no intentions of slowing down. Quite the opposite, his work is "just beginning." "I grew up with it [glycobiology]," he said. "At this blossoming stage, there is no reason for me to desert it; it's time to harvest the fruits." Lee said he will split the 12-month research scholarship into three four-month terms, interspersed with his ongoing work at Hopkins. That way, he won't be away from his Hopkins lab for too many months at a time. Complex carbohydrates are essential for fundamental life processes. Their presence on cell surfaces provides the key to everything from fertilization to attack by disease-causing microorganisms. For example, sperm cells are able to find eggs by recognizing the structure of specific carbohydrates on an egg's surface. Complex carbohydrates on cell surfaces enable the influenza virus to recognize which cells to attack at the onset of flu. And the Plasmodium parasites that cause malaria first recognize red blood cells by the complex carbohydrates on the cell surfaces. "There are many, many pathological organisms that recognize targets this way," Lee said. Therefore, understanding more about the process could lead to vaccines and cures. The research might also enable biochemists to design drugs that will deliver medication to certain organs only, since the cells of specific organs have distinct carbohydrate structures on their surfaces. And scientists might use complex carbohydrates on cell surfaces as specific targets to deliver genetic material for gene therapy techniques. Potential Fogarty scholars are nominated by senior NIH staff members and former Fogarty scholars. Dr. Lee was nominated by Hao-Chia Chen, a researcher in the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. One of the program's major goals is to foster international collaboration and cooperation on biomedical research. Since it began in 1969, about a third of the scholars have been American, and the remainder have been foreign scientists, Schmidt said. About 10 scholars are appointed annually. Lee, a Chinese native, came to the United States in 1958 and obtained his U.S. citizenship a decade later. In 1994 he was elected to the Academia Sinica, the Chinese equivalent of the National Academy of Sciences. Many of the Chinese academy's members are Chinese Americans, helping to maintain a spirit of collaboration among scientists in the two nations, Lee said. The Fogarty scholarship provides a stipend equivalent to the pay for a senior NIH scientist.
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