19.02.20

New Dale Fellow to explore production of vital carbohydrate molecules

Dr Liang Wu is to join the Rosalind Franklin Institute as a Sir Henry Dale Fellow, leading a team that will generate new insights into the production of one of the body’s essential molecules.

Currently a postdoctoral research associate working with Professor Gideon Davies at the University of York, Dr Wu will join the Franklin in May, initially for five years.

Dr Wu’s laboratory will investigate the biosynthesis of heparan sulfates – complex chains of carbohydrate molecules found around all of the body’s cells. These polysaccharides are vital for a range of biological processes but can cause congenital diseases and contribute to cancer growth when produced abnormally.

Dr Liang Wu, Sir Henry Dale Fellow at the Rosalind Franklin Institute

Dr Wu said: ‘I’m delighted to have been awarded this fellowship, and to have the opportunity to start an independent research career at the Franklin. Technological advancement is a key driver of new scientific discovery, and the Franklin’s core mission of developing new technologies to revolutionise our understanding of biological systems makes it a tremendously exciting place to be based.’

After completing his PhD at the University of Cambridge in 2013, Dr Wu joined York’s Department of Chemistry, where his published research has included the first crystal structures of human heparanase – the main enzyme responsible for heparan sulfate breakdown and a major promoter of aggressive cancers.

At the Franklin he will explore the function of the many different enzymes involved in the production of heparan sulfates, making use of techniques including crystallography, cryogenic electron microscopy, and tomographic imaging.

Dr Wu added: ‘Being surrounded by so much innovation at the Franklin will bring plenty of opportunities to test novel and disruptive approaches that can provide scientific insights out of reach to current methods. I’m particularly interested in the impressive developments in large-volume tomography being made at the Franklin, which I’m hoping will allow me to look inside cells to see how complex biological processes actually occur in their native environments.

‘I’m also excited by the recent appointment of Professor Ben Davis as the Franklin’s chemistry lead. Ben is a world leader in the chemistry of carbohydrates and proteins, and his research interfaces well with my interests. I’m looking forward to working with him on various projects in the years to come.’

The Sir Henry Dale Fellowship scheme is a partnership between the Royal Society and the Wellcome Trust, providing support for postdoctoral researchers who aim to become independent scientists leading their own groups.

Find out more about Liang’s research here.