Robert K. Yu, Ph.D., Med.Sc.D Medical College of Georgia, Institute of Molecular Medicine and Genetics

September, 2013

Dr. Yu’s major research efforts concern the chemistry, metabolism and biological function of complex glycoconjugates, particularly glycosphingolipids.  These compounds play crucial roles in determining cellular properties such as intercellular interactions, recognition, and adhesion.  In particular, he and his team are developing an understanding of the role of glycoconjugates in cell proliferation and differentiation, as well as the metabolic basis and regulatory mechanisms for changes of their expression in the developing nervous system.  A major thrust of his more recent effort, supported by grants from CMRF and NIH, is on the glycobiology of neural stem cells.  He is developing an understanding of the role of stage-specific glycoconjugates in governing events in cell differentiation and cell-fate determination via several signaling pathways.  During the past year, he has discovered many so-called stage-specific glycolipids and glycoproteins that are important for cell fate determination.  Most interestingly, he has found an association of a cell surface ganglioside, called GD3, in rapidly proliferating cells, such as neural stem cells.  This association results in regulation of the activity of a mitogen (epithelial growth factor) receptor that controls cellular proliferation. An understanding of how cell growth is controlled is critically important in utilizing them for cell transplantation studies.  The ultimate goal is to utilize those cells for the treatment of  a variety of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Sanfilippo disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and brain injury.