Carolyn R. Bertozzi

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Carolyn Bertozzi
Carolyn Bertozzi IMG 9384.jpg
Born (1966-10-10) October 10, 1966 (age 55)
Alma materHarvard University (BS)
University of California, Berkeley (MS, PhD)
Known forBioorthogonal chemistry
AwardsMacArthur Foundation Fellowship (1999)
ACS Award in Pure Chemistry (2001)
Lemelson-MIT Prize (2010)
Heinrich Wieland Prize (2012)
Wolf Prize (2022)
Scientific career
InstitutionsStanford University
University of California, Berkeley
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
University of California, San Francisco
Doctoral students
InfluencedKristi Kiick

Carolyn Ruth Bertozzi (born October 10, 1966) is a prolific American chemist known for her wide-ranging work spanning both chemistry and biology. She coined the term "bioorthogonal chemistry"[2] for chemical reactions compatible with living systems. Her recent efforts include synthesis of chemical tools to study cell surface sugars called glycans and how they impact diseases such as cancer, inflammation, and viral infections like COVID-19.[3] At Stanford University, she holds the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professorship in the School of Humanities and Sciences.[4] Bertozzi is also an Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)[5] and is the former Director of the Molecular Foundry, a nanoscience research center at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.[6] She received the MacArthur "genius" award at age 33.[7] In 2010, she was the first woman to receive the prestigious Lemelson-MIT Prize faculty award. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences (2005), the Institute of Medicine (2011), and the National Academy of Inventors (2013). In 2014, it was announced that Bertozzi would lead ACS Central Science, the American Chemical Society's first peer-reviewed open access journal, which offers all content free to the public.[8] As an open lesbian in academia and science, Bertozzi has been a role model for students and colleagues.[9][10]


Carolyn Bertozzi received her A.B. summa cum laude in chemistry from Harvard University, where she worked with Professor Joe Grabowski on the design and construction of a photoacoustic calorimeter.[11] While an undergraduate, she played in various bands. Her most notable one was Bored of Education, which included future Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello.[12][13] After graduating, she worked at Bell Labs with Chris Chidsey.[14]

Bertozzi completed her Ph.D. in chemistry at University of California, Berkeley in 1993 with Mark Bednarski, working on the chemical synthesis of oligosaccharide analogs.[15] While at Berkeley, she discovered that viruses can bind to sugars in the body.[16] The discovery led her to her current field of research, glycobiology. During Bertozzi's third year of graduate school, Bednarski was diagnosed with colon cancer, which resulted in him taking a leave of absence and changing his career path by enrolling in medical school. This left Bertozzi and the rest of the lab to complete their Ph.D. work with no direct supervision.[17]

Career and research[edit]

After graduating from Berkeley with a Ph.D., Bertozzi was a postdoctoral fellow at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) with Steven Rosen, where she studied the activity of endothelial oligosaccharides in promoting cell adhesion at inflammation sites.[18][19] While working with Rosen at UCSF, Bertozzi was able to modify the protein and sugar molecules in the walls of living cells so that the cells accept foreign materials such as implants.[20]

Bertozzi joined the Berkeley faculty in 1996.[18] She has been an investigator with HHMI since 2000.[6] In 1999, while working with HHMI and at Berkeley, she founded the field of bioorthogonal chemistry and coined the term in 2003.[21][22][23] This new field and technique allows researchers to chemically modify molecules in living organisms and not interrupt the processes of the cell.[24] In 2015, Bertozzi moved to Stanford University to join the ChEM-H Institute.[25]

Bertozzi studies the glycobiology of underlying diseases such as cancer, inflammatory disorders such as arthritis, and infectious diseases such as tuberculosis. In particular, Bertozzi has advanced the understanding of cell surface oligosaccharides involved in cell recognition and inter-cellular communication. Bertozzi has applied the techniques of bioorthogonal chemistry to study glycocalyx, the sugars that surround the cell membrane. Her discoveries have advanced the field of biotherapeutics.[26] Her lab has also developed tools for research. One such development is creating chemical tools for studying glycans in living systems.[6] Her lab's development of nanotechnologies which probe biological systems lead to the development of a fast point-of-care tuberculosis test in 2018.[27][28] In 2017, due to her lab's discovery of linking the sugars on the surface of cancer cells and their ability to avoid the immune system defenses, she was invited to speak at Stanford's TED talk,[29] giving a talk entitled "What the sugar coating on your cells is trying to tell you".

Biotechnology startups[edit]

In addition to her academic work, Bertozzi works actively with biotechnology start-ups.

In the early 2000s, Bertozzi and Steve Rosen co-founded Thios Pharmaceuticals the first company to target sulfation pathways.[30]

In 2008, Bertozzi founded a startup of her own: Redwood Bioscience of Emeryville, California.[31] Redwood Bioscience is a biotechnology company that uses SMARTag, a site-specific protein modification technology that allows small drugs to attach to sites on the proteins and can be used to help fight cancers.[16][32] Redwood Bioscience was acquired by Catalent Pharma Solutions in 2014. Bertozzi remains a part of the advisory board for the biologics sector of the company.[32]

In 2014, she co-founded Enable Biosciences which focuses on biotechnologies for at-home diagnoses for type 1 diabetes, HIV, and other diseases.[21][33]

Bertozzi became a co-founder of Palleon Pharma of Waltham, Massachusetts, in 2015.[34] Palleon Pharma focuses on investigating glycoimmune checkpoint inhibitors as a potential treatment for cancer.[35]

In 2017, Bertozzi helped found InterVenn Biosciences, which uses mass spectrometry and artificial intelligence to enhance glycoproteomics for target and biomarker discovery, ovarian cancer diagnostics, and predicting the successes and failures of clinical trials.[21][36]

She co-founded Grace Science Foundation in 2018. The foundation focuses on curing NGLY1 deficiency through developing therapeutics that are efficient and inexpensive.[37]

In 2019 she co-founded both OliLux Biosciences and Lycia Therapeutics. OliLux Biosciences develops new methods for tuberculosis detection.[21][38] The founding of Lycia Therapeutics occurred when Bertozzi's group discovered lysosome-targeting chimeras (LYTACs). The new molecule class may be able to degrade some cardiovascular disease and cancer targets.[39] Lycia Therapeutics focuses on developing technology which utilizes lysosome-targeting chimeras (LYTACs).[21]

Dr. Bertozzi has also previously served on the research advisory board of several pharmaceutical companies including GlaxoSmithKline, and until recently Eli Lilly.[40]


Bertozzi has over 600 publications on Web of Science; listed below are the most cited:

  • Sletten, EM; Bertozzi, CR (2009). "Bioorthogonal Chemistry: Fishing for Selectivity in a Sea of Functionality". Angewandte Chemie International Edition in English. 48 (38): 6974–98. doi:10.1002/anie.200900942. PMC 2864149. PMID 19714693.
  • Bertozzi, Carolyn R.; Kiessling, Laura L. (2001). "Chemical Glycobiology". Science. 291 (5512): 2357–64. Bibcode:2001Sci...291.2357B. doi:10.1126/science.1059820. PMID 11269316. S2CID 9585674.
  • Saxon, Eliana; Bertozzi, Carolyn R. (2000). "Cell Surface Engineering by a Modified Staudinger Reaction". Science. 287 (5460): 2007–10. Bibcode:2000Sci...287.2007S. doi:10.1126/science.287.5460.2007. PMID 10720325. S2CID 19720277.
  • Agard, Nicholas J.; Prescher, Jennifer A.; Bertozzi, Carolyn R. (2005). "A Strain-Promoted [3 + 2] Azide−Alkyne Cycloaddition for Covalent Modification of Biomolecules in Living Systems". Journal of the American Chemical Society. 126 (46): 15046–15047. doi:10.1021/ja044996f. PMID 15547999.
  • Dube, DH; Bertozzi, CR (2005). "Glycans in cancer and inflammation--potential for therapeutics and diagnostics". Nature Reviews Drug Discovery. 4 (6): 477–88. doi:10.1038/nrd1751. PMID 15931257. S2CID 22525932.

Awards and honors[edit]

Carolyn Bertozzi, receiving the Emanuel Merck Lectureship in 2011

Personal life[edit]

Carolyn Bertozzi grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts. She has two sisters, one of whom, Andrea Bertozzi, is on the mathematics faculty at UCLA.[72] Her father, William Bertozzi, was a physics professor at MIT.[73][74] [75] Growing up, Bertozzi and her two sisters grew up revolved around science. Because their father was a physics professor, when asked what her and her sisters wanted to be when grown up, the answer was unanimous: a nuclear physicist. The three girls would attend MIT camps, as their father dreamt that they would attend MIT due to a "mixture of pride and the promise of free tuition." To William's dismay, Carolyn attended Harvard instead because the school offered strengths outside of just science. She was not the first to stray, though, her older sister, Andrea, attended Princeton University. Bertozzi briefly considered a career in music. In high school, she won several awards for music compositions and musical accomplishments. Her talent on the keyboard earned her offers as a music major from several university rock bands, but she felt that she was "always centered on the sciences."


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