Johns Hopkins Gazette: July 24, 1995

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

     "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

     "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

     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

     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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