Sen-itiroh Hakomori wins 2011 Rosalind Kornfeld Award

The Society for Glycobiology is pleased to announce that the recipient of the 2011 Rosalind Kornfeld Award is jointly awarded to Sen-itiroh Hakomori and Yuan Chuan (Ed) Lee. The Rosalind Kornfeld Award for Lifetime Achievement in Glycobiology was established in 2008 to honor the distinguished scientific career and service to the Society by Dr. Rosalind Kornfeld. The award is given by the Society to scientists who have, over their professional lifetimes, made significant contributions with important impact on the field.

Sen-itiroh Hakomori (Professor Emeritus of Pathobiology and Global Health, University of Washington) remains the world leading researcher in the area of glycosphingolipids with so many ground-breaking contributions that he deserves the title "Dr. Glycolipid!" Dr. Hakomori graduated from the Tohoku University School of Medicine and immediately started his research on biochemistry of glycolipids.  He was trained by Dr. Masamune, a professor of biochemistry in Tohoku University School of Medicine, and a pioneer in carbohydrate biochemistry.  Dr. Masamune has a strong perspective on biology of complex carbohydrates and he strongly influenced the research direction of Dr. Hakamori from the beginning of his glycolipid studies.  Dr. Hakamori thus had a keen interest in understanding and determining the function of mammalian glycolipids.

In the early stages of his research career, Dr. Hakamori worked on the difference between glycolipids from normal and cancer cells and depending on cancer systems studies, he found two critical changes after the cells become transformed.  One common feature is that the larger more complex glycolipids decrease and the corresponding shorter glycolipids accumulate.  Since this shorter structures were thought to represent precursors, it was evident that carbohydrates were not fully synthesized and precursor glycolipids accumulate in cancer cells.  In less frequent systems or situations, cancer cells accumulate longer glycolipids at the expense of shorter glycolipids.  Dr. Hakamori is a pioneer in establishing glycan markers for cancer cells since he showed that they are characteristically different in cancer cells compared to those in normal cells.  This is still the basis of our current studies to identify glycan markers that are specific to pathological conditions including cancer. The biological and medical aspects of his contributions have been a tremendous help to the glycobiology and biomedical communities in understanding how pathological conditions change glycan structures.

Dr. Hakamori has made critical contributions to our understanding of the carbohydrate structures of glycolipids.  One such contribution is the determination of blood group antigens, including the ABO antigen.  His studies completed the studies initiated by Kabat, Morgan, and other pioneers who gave us a critical notion of the glycan structure.  Thus, the presence of a specific sugar residue can determine whether that glycolipid in an A or B blood group antigen and its absence make these glycolipids H antigen or O blood group, and this is only a fraction of what Dr. Hakamori contributed.   He also studied the development and function of antigens in determining the structure of glycolipids, including blood group i and I, which correspond to fetal and adult antigens of human red cells.

As another monumental work, Dr. Hakamori purified human blood groups A, B and O enzymes and cloned the cDNAs encoding those enzymes and his findings were striking.  He and his associates showed that blood group A and B enzyme differ by less than 10 amino acids and only four amino acid differences in a part of the amino acid sequence determine the substrate specificity toward UDP-Gal or UDP-GalNAc.  Moreover, his group showed that H enzyme is inactive because its translation product is prematurely truncated.  His work represented a major advance in our understanding of the function of glycosyltransferases and how genetic alterations of one gene has such a huge influence in activity, which results in a dramatic change in the enzymatic product as an antigen.

In recent years, Dr. Hakomori has studied an entirely new research field by looking at carbohydrate-carbohydrate interactions of glycolipids.  This is an entirely new field and driven very much by his hypothesis.  If glycolipids are present on cell surfaces, one glycolipid may interact with other glycolipid on an opposing cell.  This interaction takes place mainly through van der Waals interactions and hydrogen bonding.  Because some carbohydrates, such as fucose, are more hydrophobic than the others, an interaction may take palce between carbohydrates of two different glycolipids.  This is an original idea from Dr. Hakomori's work and further studies by his and other groups will provide further evidence for its functional significance.

Dr. Hakomori is an outstanding scientist who encouraged young associates to develop.  To name a few, Drs. Roger Laine at Louisiana State University, Carl Gahmberg at University of Helsinki, Drs. Michiko and Minoru Fukuda at Sanfod-Burnham, Cliff Lingwood in Toronto, Masaki Saito at Ryukyu University, Japan, Reiji Kannagi at Aichi Cancer Center, Taeko Miyagi, at Institute for Health Sciences at Sendai, and Yasayuki Igarashi at Hokkaido University have very active research programs and benefitted by training with Dr. Hakomori.

One of Dr. Hakomori's strengths is to bring his unorthodox new ideas to postdocs, challenging them to develop their own ideas, and eventually develop their own research directions.  Dr. Hakomori also contributed to the development of our Society for Glycobiology and he organized the XIII International Symposium on Glycoconjugates in 1995. For all of these accomplishments and service to the field the Society of Glycobiology has awarded Dr. Sen-itiroh Hakomori the 2011 Rosalind Kornfeld Award for Lifetime Achievement in Glycobiology.