2022 President's Innovator Award
Dr. James Paulson

The Society for Glycobiology President’s Innovator Award acknowledges the contributions of one scientist each year who has made a significant impact on society. The 2022 President’s Innovator Award will be presented to Dr. James Paulson, Cecil H., and Ida Green Professor and Chair, Department of Molecular Medicine and Department of Immunology and Microbiology, The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA.

Dr. Paulson received M.S. (1971) and Ph.D. (1974) degrees in Biochemistry at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. After postdoctoral studies in Biochemistry at Duke University Medical Center, he became an Assistant Professor of Biological Chemistry at UCLA School of Medicine in 1978, where he was promoted to Associate Professor in 1981, and Professor in 1985. He worked at the Cytel Corporation, San Diego from 1990 to 1999, as Vice President, Chief Scientific Officer and member of the Board of Directors. Dr. Paulson joined The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, as Professor in 1999, and from 2001-2012 was Director of the Consortium for Functional Glycomics which grew to over 700 members worldwide. He served as President & Acting CEO of The Scripps Research Institute in 2014-15 and is currently the Cecil H. and Ida Green Professor and Chair of the Department of Molecular Medicine .

Dr. James Paulson is recognized as one of the most influential world leaders in the field of glycobiology. He has published nearly 400 papers and made numerous seminal contributions in the areas of chemical biology of glycans, biochemical genetics of sialyltransferases, and the functions of lectins and carbohydrates in the immune system and virus-host interactions. For over 40 years, Dr. Paulson’s role as a research leader influenced careers of several generations of scientists in the area of glycobiology and beyond. His work has had enduring impact on the field and the society, while opening many new avenues in biomedical glycoscience. 

Since the 1970s, Dr. Paulson’s main research interests have  revolved around the functions of sialic acids, arguably the most complex and diverse type of sugar residues with a multitude of biological functions. His specific interest in creating novel tools for uncovering carbohydrate-binding proteins brought about important discoveries in applied and foundational glycoscience. He was among the pioneers of chemoenzymatic synthesis of sialylated carbohydrates, the approach that led to his breakthrough success in cloning the first sialyltransferase and producing recombinant enzymes. Dr. Paulson’s work in this area established a novel direction of research on the structure-function relationship of glycosylation enzymes and promoted a new era of tools based on glycan arrays. His cutting-edge work in the area of chemical glycobiology continues to lead to discoveries and innovation, including the development of unique carbohydrate analogues for inhibition of specific glycosylation pathways modulation of lectin interactions, and engineering nanoparticles, polymers and proteins to carry glycan ligands of immune receptors  to modulate immune responses.

Dr. Paulson has also made significant contributions that revealed the glycan-mediated mechanism of influenza virus interactions with host cells. His early discovery that influenza virus recognition of sialoside receptors on host cells correlated with species of origin led to advances in the understanding of viral tropism and the structural biology of virus-host interactions. Subsequent research from his laboratory, as well as fruitful collaborations, showed that new human pandemic viruses from avian strains needed to adapt their receptor specificity for transmission in the human population. Dr. Paulson’s innovative contributions to glycovirology have similarly contributed to knowledge of receptors of polyoma viruses and coronaviruses. More recently, his laboratory designed a unique method for fingerprinting HIV glycans to support the development of effective vaccines. These conceptual and methodological advances are making all-important contributions to biomedicine in the wake of recent viral pandemics. 

His research on the glycan ligands of the selectin and Siglec families of immune cell receptors and understanding of their biological functions are among the most significant impacts of Dr. Paulson’s research in the field of glycoimmunology. A central theme of this work was generating novel, high-affinity ligands that can discriminate between carbohydrate binding proteins, providing new avenues to specifically target clinically important inflammatory pathways with potential for treatments of immune system disorders. Dr. Paulson’s research in this area has made an impactful contribution to foundational glycoscience as well as the area of therapeutic applications for autoimmune disorders and cancer. 

Dr. Paulson’s scientific contributions are recognized by many prestigious awards, including the ACS Melville L. Wolfrom and Claude S. Hudson Awards, the SFG Karl Meyer Award, the Bijvoet Medal, and the United States EPA Green Chemistry Challenge Award, and he was also elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  

For his seminal contributions to foundational glycoscience and innovative applications of chemical biology and glycoengineering in biomedicine, Dr. James Paulson has been awarded the 2022 President’s Innovator Award from the Society for Glycobiology.