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Cancer and the sugars that coat our cells: A TEDxStanford presentation

College students tend to toss their class notes as soon as final exams are over, but in a recent TEDxStanford talk, biochemist Carolyn Bertozzi, PhD, makes a strong case for keeping your class notes and reviewing them often.

She explains how her old class notes gave her one of the most interesting problems she'd encountered as chemist and biologist: decoding the mystery of the sugars that coat our cells.

In her notes she’d written, "The sugar coating on our cells is like the sugar coating on a peanut M&M." At the time, Bertozzi explained, researchers didn’t know why cells had sugar coatings, but they knew that it mattered.

Bertozzi and her colleagues studied the different sugar structures on cells and found that high concentrations of a certain sugar coating, known as sialic acid, can indicate the presence of cancer. "We've learned when an immune cell snuggles up against a cancer cell to take a taste, it's looking for signs of disease." Bertozzi said. But, if the cancer cell is coated in a dense coat of sialic acid, the immune cell gets the message, "nothing to see here, move along," she explained.

In the video, Bertozzi describes how her lab is working to develop new medicines that strip sialic acid off cancer cells so immune cells can detect and destroy them. It's well worth a watch.

Previously: Finding medicine where you least expect it: Christina Smolke presents at TEDxStanford, Gold particles light the way for brain surgeons: Adam de la Zerda presents at TEDxStanford and Building a concussion-proof helmet: A Stanford bioengineer shares his findings at TEDxStanford
Video courtesy of TEDxStanford

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