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Northeastern University Receives Funding from the National Cancer Institute to Study the Glycobiology of Cancer

Research Could Aid Understanding of Cancer Risk and Early Detection

Northeastern University is one of seven institutions selected by The National Cancer Institute (NCI) to receive funding as part of a new $15.5 million, five-year initiative to discover, develop, and clinically validate cancer biomarkers by targeting the carbohydrate (glycan) part of a molecule. The purpose of this initiative is to aid in the understanding of cancer risk and detection. Northeastern’s research team is led by William Hancock, Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology and Bradstreet Chair of the Barnett Institute, and will focus its work on breast cancer.

The NCI, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), believes that examining biomarkers and finding new ways to identify them will be critically important to both the basic understanding of cancer and the ability to identify early cancer and risk for cancer. Biomarkers are substances sometimes found in the blood, other body fluids, or tissues that measure biological processes, and in addition to genes and proteins, can be complex carbohydrate (sugar) structures that are attached to protein and lipid (fat) molecules.

Numerous studies comparing normal and tumor cells have shown that changes in the glycan structures of cells correlate with cancer development, but the biological and chemical complexities of working with glycan structures have often discouraged investigation. With the advent of advanced technologies to conduct protein and carbohydrate chemistry, research into this area has experienced renewed interest.

“We are excited to be working in this new and promising area of cancer research,” said Hancock. “Though the work is complex, we are focused on producing results quickly, taking our work from the lab to the clinic where it can help to improve early detection and ultimately save lives.”

In awarding seven institutions, the NCI has created an Alliance of Glycobiologists that it hopes will accelerate the pace of biomarker development and discovery. Dr. Hancock has also been named a co-chair of the Alliance and will take an active role in encouraging collaboration between all of the Alliance partners.

“Dr. Hancock’s lab is undertaking groundbreaking research in the emerging area of cancer biomarkers,” said Srinivas Sridhar, Vice Provost for Research at Northeastern University. “This grant, as well as his selection as co-chair of the Alliance, is recognition of his distinguished contributions to the field, and an honor to the University.”

For a full list of grant awardees, visit:

For more information, please contact Laura Shea Souza at 617-373-5427 or at


About Northeastern

Founded in 1898, Northeastern University is a private research university located in the heart of Boston. Northeastern is a leader in interdisciplinary research, urban engagement, and the integration of classroom learning with real-world experience. The university’s distinctive cooperative education program, where students alternate semesters of full-time study with semesters of paid work in fields relevant to their professional interests and major, is one of the largest and most innovative in the world. The University offers a comprehensive range of undergraduate and graduate programs leading to degrees through the doctorate in six undergraduate colleges, eight graduate schools, and two part-time divisions. For more information, please visit

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