Have you ever tried taking one single strand of sugar out of cotton candy? I haven’t, but I am pretty sure it is impossible. But why would you even want to do that? Because that cotton candy is around all our cells. Cancer cells and bacteria have different sugar coatings than our normal, healthy cells. That layer of sugar could be used as a target for new medicines and vaccines. But if we strip this sugar layer from the bacteria, it won’t be suitable to use because it is a filthy mush of all kinds of sugar molecules. We can’t take that one strand of sugar out of the cotton candy.

That is why I fabricate these sugars in the lab. We do this by building them from scratch with homemade sugar lego blocks. In that way we can make precision sugars of which we know exactly how they look and we can study what they do. We can also give these sugars some extra functionality. A light, to light up other molecules the sugars use, or a fishing rod, to catch other molecules. In this way we can understand why sugars do what they do, how they do what they do and even use them to do what we want them to do.

Leiden University

All cells have a kind of jacket of sugar molecules. Cancer cells and bacteria have a different sugar coat around them than our normal, healthy cells. The better you understand that layer, the better you can make medicines. But you can not just remove the layer from the cells. That is why Jeroen Codée builds this in his lab. And he even adds extra functionalities.

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