2023 Glycobiology Significant Achievement Award
Dr. Sean Stowell

Oxford University Press is equally proud to present the honor of a 2023 Glycobiology Significant Achievement Award to Dr. Sean Stowell, who is an Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School and a member of the Joint Program in Transfusion Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He also is the Medical Director of the Apheresis Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Associate Director of the Harvard Medical School Center for Glycosciences. Dr. Stowell’s award also will be given during the Annual Meeting of the Society for Glycobiology, which will be held in Hawaii this fall.

Dr. Stowell has established a highly productive and innovative research group that is focused on glycobiology and transfusion medicine. His research has helped to define the underlying mechanisms responsible for the development of immunological barriers that prevent the optimal treatment of hematologic diseases. In addition to developing models to define the pathophysiology of transfusion complications (including those in patients with sickle cell disease), his group uncovered the role of glycans in shaping important aspects of immune barriers to the effective treatment of hematologic diseases in general.  His work has led to fundamental new insights into innate immunity against carbohydrate molecular mimicry.  He has pioneered studies into the roles of galectins in protecting individuals from microbes that utilize molecular mimicry, including defining the tolerance mechanisms that prevent blood group positive individuals from generating anti-blood group antibodies, and how blood group positive individuals protect themselves against blood group positive microbes, which was unclear in the field. Stowell’s laboratory has demonstrated that galectins, which are the most ancient lectin family expressed in mammals, have the unique ability intrinsically and specifically to bind and kill microbes that express blood group and related mammalian-like carbohydrate antigens. In doing so, these findings created a new paradigm in innate immunity indicating that galectins, which are hard-wired in an individual’s genome irrespective of blood group status, fill this gap in adaptive immunity by providing innate immunity against molecular mimicry. 

In related studies, Stowell’s group also defined the blood group binding preference of SARS-CoV-2 and discovered the receptor binding domain of SARS-CoV-2 bears significant sequence identity and overall structural homology to galectins and that it likewise possesses blood group binding activity.

Stowell’s laboratory has made many other key discoveries in the field, including further defining the naturally occurring anti-blood group antibody development and the development of anti-glycan antibodies that influence anti-fVIII antibodies in patients with hemophilia A. His overall and ongoing research is providing key insights into the fundamental biology that underlies the pathophysiology of transfusion complications that had remained enigmatic for over 50 years, including platelet refractoriness, incompatible RBC transfusion biology, and antibody-mediated immunosuppression.