Where Ideas grow
Immunology, Cancer Glycomedicine


Glycans (carbohydrates or sugar chains) cover the surfaces of all mammalian cells through a process called glycosylation. The diversity of glycans presentation on cell surface places them as ideal molecular sensors with an enormous potential for information display. The importance of glycans in the regulation of the immune system has been underappreciated for many years, and clearly the elucidation of how glycans integrate into the regulatory circuits that control the immune response will have a broad biological and clinical impact The major goal of our group is to understand how glycans mediate either immune-stimulatory or immune-inhibitory circuits with impact in inflammation, autoimmunity (including Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Systemic Lupus Erythematosus) and cancer, envisioning potential clinical applications.




Our group is focused in the study of glycans as key mediators of the cellular and molecular processes relevant to immune tolerance, inflammation and cancer. Our work builds on the identification of an aberrantly expressed glycoform in cancer, the β1,6 GlcNAc branched N-glycans, catalysed by GnT-V enzyme, that was extensively characterized by us as a pro-malignant and pro-invasive structure (Pinho et al., Hum Mol Genet. 2009; Pinho et al., BBA 2013; Carvalho et al., Oncotarget 2016) being associated with poor survival rates of cancer patients (Carvalho et al., Oncogene 2016; Pinho and Reis, Nat Rev Cancer 2015). More recently, we found that Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) patients exhibit a deficiency on the expression of branched complex N-glycans on intestinal T cells which negatively affected the T cell function and was associated with disease severity (Dias et al., Hum Mol Genet 2014). In summary, the research of our group is clustered in two main lines: 1) the characterization of the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which glycans contribute to amplify immune response in inflammation and autoimmunity (with a focus on IBD and SLE); 2) the understanding of how cancer-specific glycosignature regulates the immunological networks in cancer.

The group has a multidisciplinary background being composed of highly motivated biochemists, biologists, clinical investigators that in straight collaboration with centre hospitals share the common long term goal of performing translational research as well as preclinical and clinical validation of rational biomarkers and therapeutic strategies in inflammation, autoimmunity and cancer.

The research focus of the ICG group: Glycans at the interface of Immunology and Cancer. Upper right figure illustrates mucosal T cells expressing a glycan (green) and the T Cell Receptor (red). Bottom right figure represents an aberrantly expressed glycan (red) in cancer cells.