Distinguished Research Professor 2019
Jon Amster, professor and head of the Department of Chemistry, is a pioneer in mass spectrometry-based analytical approaches to understanding glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). These carbohydrates are essential to organisms from bacteria to humans, binding to proteins for cell signaling, inflammation, pathogenic infections and cancer. But GAGs are among the most challenging molecules to analyze. Scientists don’t fully understand how cells create these highly complex molecules, which can exist in many similar but different forms. Identifying how GAGs are created and how they may be involved in disease could lead to the development of drugs that block their action. Amster was a leader of the first team to develop high-powered tools into which GAGs were placed and broken into predictable pieces, allowing scientists to learn their sequences and structures. He also developed new software for automated analysis of the data, providing faster sorting and identification tools that could someday hasten biomedical applications including new treatments.