I have been doing independent research this past week due to the strict guidelines of the University of Arizona of not allowing minors to work in the lab setting on campus. While I was in the interview with the lab director and my daily supervisor, they began talking about how the molecule I will be working on could be linked to cancer treatment, so I decided I would look more into how glycolipids are involved in cancer patients. I found that glycolipids play a key role in the development of tumor cells. The molecule I will be working with is not a part of the development of tumor cells, rather another form of glycolipid known as a ganglioside, has a more prevalent role. According to a scientific paper I read, there have been studies that linked gangliosides, which are glycolipids attached to sialic acids, to the immunosuppression quality of tumor-bearing animals and humans. Gangliosides have also been linked to regulation of cell adhesiveness and the loss of some gangliosides could explain the anchorage-dependent characteristic of tumor cells. There are a lot more roles that glycolipids play in the development of tumors as well.
A process known as aberrant glycosylation, which is the divergent reaction that attaches a polysaccharide to a protein, lipid, or other organic molecule, has been observed in tumor-associated cells, and this process has been linked to glycolipids. It has been discovered that these glycolipids are under the control of transforming genes that are triggered by oncogene activation. It has been hypothesized that glycolipids regulate cell growth, which has been examined with a decrease or deletion of glycolipids in fibroblasts (cell that makes collagen and other fibers) that are associated with oncogenic transformations, which resulted in a loss of growth control, another trait of tumor cells. Enzyme activity could also be the source to aberrant glycosylation; for example, the assembly and organization of the enzyme multiglycosyltransferase could be altered. If this were the case, then further studies of the mechanism of activation or inactivation of transcription would be required. Lastly, glycolipids have also been linked to the membrane fluidity in tumor cells, but this is only a hypothesis with little evidence to support it. Doing this research on the biological process of tumor formation has made me hopeful that my lab is granted the ability to test the new molecule for cancer treatment because the difficulty to cure cancer has been an enormous issue in society, and I have learned that my work as a chemical engineer or as just a chemist in general could be applied to biological aspects that I was unaware of.