November 17, 1997
Media Contact: Michael Purdy
An expert in the emerging science of glycobiology has become the new DeLamar Professor and director of the Department of Biological Chemistry at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Gerald Hart, Ph.D., discovered in 1983 that many proteins inside the nucleus, the central region of the cell, are at times attached to sugars, and that this modification helps regulate the activity of the proteins.
The process, called glycosylation, may have an important role in a number of disorders, including cancer, degenerative nerve diseases, and diabetes.
"It's a switching mechanism, essentially" says Hart. "Adding the sugar to a protein temporarily changes its function in some way: it can do its job faster, or it can do something new, or it's unable to do something it could do before."
A counterpart to this process, called phosphorylation, changes a protein's function by adding a phosphate molecule. Hart believes the two processes may have a "yin-yang" relationship, and has found evidence that glycosylation may block phosphorylation.
"Dr. Hart is a dedicated teacher, an outstanding lecturer, and an international leader in his area of research," says Edward Miller, M.D., dean of the medical school. "We're very pleased to have him aboard."
Hart originally joined the Johns Hopkins faculty in 1979, becoming a full professor in 1988 before going to the University of Alabama-Birmingham in 1993 as chairman of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics. He obtained his Ph.D. in developmental biology at Kansas State University in 1977.
He is a past president of the Society for Glycobiology, chaired the 1997 Gordon conference on glycobiology, and in September was named the first recipient of the International Glycoconjugate Organization Award. He is editor-in-chief of Glycobiology and a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
His research is supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, and the Mizutani Foundation of Japan.