Press Release – NIH Biomedical Beat Blog
From the post on – “Could a Spoonful of Sugar Be a Medicine?” by ABBEY BIGLER
Glycans called human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) make up a significant portion of human milk. Study findings have shown that some HMOs can be prebiotics—substances that encourage beneficial bacteria to grow. Research has also revealed that some disease-causing microbes bind to certain HMOs, potentially allowing the germs to pass through the body without causing illness.
Studying HMOs has historically been very difficult, often involving a complex chemical process to produce the molecule. But soon, researchers may be able to create these sugars with the push of a button, thanks to a machine being developed by Alexei Demchenko, Ph.D., a professor and department chair of chemistry at Saint Louis University in Missouri. The machine will store “recipes” for making HMOs in a computer and will contain vials of simple sugars from which to build the molecules.
“Our goal is that anyone, even a middle school student, could go into the lab and press a button, and the machine would do the synthesis for them,” says Dr. Demchenko. Scientists trying to determine the function of an HMO could create it with Dr. Demchenko’s machine and then, for example, introduce it to beneficial bacteria from the human gut or to various pathogens and look for interactions.