Professor Joy Burchell

The Department of Life Sciences invites you to its annual 2021 International Women’s Day lecture. This year we’re delighted to welcome Professor Joy Burchell from King’s College London.

The emerging role of sugars in cancer

Virtually all proteins carried on the surface of cells are decorated with sugars; these combined structures are known as glycoproteins. These sugars, or glycans, are fundamental to the function of the protein and are involved in cell:cell and cell:environment interactions. Most of my research career has been working on breast cancer and investigating the difference between normal and cancer breast epithelial cells lead to our research on glycans. This talk will chart the road towards understanding the relevance of one type of glycans on cancer progression.

Importantly the sugars on glycoproteins change as cancers develop and so, in cancer, the glycoproteins can interact with a new set of proteins and cells. We have studied the mechanisms responsible for aberrant glycosylation in cancer and shown that one particular  glycan increases tumour growth. We have also investigated if aberrant glycans can be used for the earlier detection of cancer and shown that one particular glycoprotein, MUC1, carries aberrant glycans that allow it to bind to specific immune cells, called monocytes and macrophages that infiltrate the tumour. Once the binding takes place the monocytes and macrophages change: the monocytes secrete factors that induce tumour growth and recruit more immune cells, and the macrophages become “tumour-associated macrophages” a type of cell that is associated with invasion and a poor prognosis.


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