Peng George Wang, Ph.D.
Georgia State University
Many vaccines are made from a complex structure of sugars and proteins, and they require several steps to produce. But Peng George Wang has developed a method that combines all the steps into just one — which he calls the “one-shot” approach.
Traditionally, a pharmaceutical company creates a sugar-protein vaccine by first growing the bacteria in a lab and isolating its surface sugars. At the same time – in a separate effort within the lab – the company grows a protein structure. In the final step, the sugars and the protein are connected to create the vaccine.
But Wang's new method relies on a novel work of engineering to complete it all in one step. Beginning with that single bacterium, he inserts a tiny crew of genes. Each gene in the crew is programmed with its own mission: one creates the sugar structure, another creates the protein and the third controls exactly where the sugar and protein link up.
By turning three steps into one, Wang's approach makes sugar-protein vaccines much faster and cheaper to manufacture. Using this new method, Wang's lab is working on vaccines for E. coli, shigella, staph and pseudomonas – all identified as particularly high priority by the FDA and the CDC.
For kids in developing countries, where many vaccines remain financially out of reach, Wang's discovery could deliver a life-changing impact.
Along with improved vaccines, glycoscience — the study of sugars — could also lead to many other advances: new ways of understanding and treating disease, breakthroughs in efficient and cost-effective biofuels, and innovations in materials science.
Dr. Wang's lab is at the forefront of one of the most fundamental research projects in glycoscience today: developing a comprehensive database of the thousands of unique carbohydrate structures that exist in nature. Some of these carbohydrate structures may have properties that make them especially important to study or synthesize for pharmaceutical or industrial purposes.
- His lab has developed its own highly useful methodology for synthesizing carbohydrate chains. Their method emulates that of the human body, which uses enzymes to create complex carbohydrate chains and connect them to a protein. Wang and his colleagues analyze the mechanism for these natural processes so they can engineer a similar process in the lab.
- Because this is a novel technique, Wang's lab is sharing it with other researchers, promoting greater collaboration. Building this "sugar library" will allow scientists everywhere to draw on shared knowledge and help glycoscience grow by leaps and bounds.
Straight from the Scholar
The State of Georgia and GRA have great visions and support for the sciences. Sugar research is especially strong and internationally well known in several universities and research institutes in Georgia. Thus, I am so excited to have a chance to work with my colleagues in Georgia