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Baltimore chemist wins national award for insights into body's carbohydrates

Chemist Yuan Chuan Lee of Timonium, Md., will be honored April 3 by the world's largest scientific society for his achievements in revealing how carbohydrates function as biological signals in the body. He will receive the 2001 Claude S. Hudson Award in Carbohydrate Chemistry from the American Chemical Society at its national meeting in San Diego.

Human genes and the proteins they code for are prominent news these days, "but it's not going to be a complete story without carbohydrates," said Lee, a biochemist at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. "Without proteins' final adornment with carbohydrates, most of them don't function properly."

Lee's own research focuses on the role of carbohydrates in signaling, the communication within the body between molecules and between cells.

"In the late 1970s we started to examine liver cells, which have very powerful carbohydrate receptors (for signaling)," he said. "We realized that if we could design a small molecule with a high binding affinity (for the receptors), it could become a targeting device in drug delivery."

By being able to target a drug to a specific tissue, both dosage and side effects can decrease, Lee explained.

While working on the project, Lee's team discovered what became known as the cluster effect: that the right number of carbohydrates - three properly spaced galactoses, in the case of human liver cells - will find a receptor and latch on with dramatically more efficiency than two, for example.

The biochemist said several pharmaceutical companies are exploring the approach, which can potentially cut drug doses not by half but by the hundreds - or even thousands - fold.

A native of Taiwan, Lee said his father is an artist - "but he could have been a good scientist," he added. "Of eight brothers and sisters, six of us work in some field of science and technology. So it must run in the family."

Lee received his undergraduate degree from the National Unive
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Contact: Rodney Pearson
r_pearson@acs.org
202-872-4400
American Chemical Society
28-Mar-2001


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