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In only three years’ time, Dr Jan Tkač went from being the first ERC grantee in Slovakia to obtaining the “2015 Scientist of the Year” award. His research in the field of glyconomics could emerge as a turning point for the diagnosis of cell-related diseases.
In Bratislava, the team of Dr Ján Tkáč is developing the weapons to fight back in a cellular ‘cold war’ by using new early-detection technologies – helped by the first ERC grant awarded in Slovakia. Glycans are sugar molecules that carry the information human cells need to stay healthy and fight infections. Information rich, and with sophisticated storage and coding commands, they are a vital early-warning system for triggering an organism’s natural defensive systems at the first sign of attack. So it is not surprising that infectious pathogens such as bacteria and viruses, and cell-related diseases such as cancers, have developed subterfuges to bypass this first line of defence. For example, HIV viruses do this by cracking the glycan’s molecular code, and stealing its identity – allowing the pathogen to go unrecognised by cells until the infection is well advanced.